Each and every one of us has gone through pain, whether its physical, emotional, mental and the like. Pain has now become like one of those misunderstood and infamous villains of those comic books, which we must slay with those pain killers or try anything to numb that unpleasantness away. What we don’t realize is the list of ways it benefits us and the more critical purpose it serves. After over 50 years of studying the science of pain, a lot of facts about pain are often misconstrued because we do not understand that it is a vital mechanism and numbing it, does not mean we become healthy or our bodies are functioning normally again. Some scientific facts about pain and its various types, which will urge you to reassess how you perceive it and improve the ways you manage it.1 2
Pain Protects Us
The director of the Alan Edwards Center for Pain Research, Dr. Fernando Cervero, explained that pain is actually protecting us, and that is a positive form of pain which we experience. This type of pain keeps us from causing harm to ourselves and is one of the normal functions our brains carry out. That’s because, it’s the brains way of urging us to do something about it by causing that nagging pain in a particular part of your body to say: “Attention, Alert, Danger, Something’s wrong here, do something and fix it!!!”. This pain is your way of knowing something is wrong in your body and is a classic survival mechanism. For example, few people in the world suffer from congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA), which is a rare genetic disease where people are unable to feel pain. This exponentially shortens their life because they never know if there is something damaged or wrong in their bodies, since pain is the natural alarm that goes off to tell us so. Ignorance not much of a bliss here, but scientists are investigating various ways to help people with this condition.
Pain Is Experienced By The Brain Not The Area You Feel It
Pain is a signal the brain sends out to the particular site in our bodies NOT something which the brain receives as a signal from the body. As the title suggests, therefore your brain is the one in pain not your body. For example, if you have a tummy ache or stomach bug, the nerve impulses from your tummy transmit warning signals to the brain. The brain then tries to analyze the information from those nerve endings, and then decides that this issue in your tummy needs your attention. It is only after that do we feel pain, as the brain create a painful sensation in the tummy to tell you to fix it, provide the area with some healing and reduce further possible damage. Besides that, different parts of the brain all work together to deal with the pain’s call -to-action, such as the amygdala (controls emotions), the memory bank of your brain and also the one which controls future plans or strategies. However, how fast or slow this happens and even how well the body handles it or how habituated the person is to that pain all vary from person to person.
Pain Does Not Always Equate To Harm Or Damage
When you’re pain, chances are that your body is not in any impending danger just as how an damage to the body may not necessarily stimulate any pain responses, such as losing an arm in an accident or less extreme cases where we find a blue-black mark on our legs and have no idea how we got it. We may not experience any pain till few hours after or only when we press the area, as the brain numbs the sensation or doesn’t even acknowledge it to be source for pain. More so, pain can be deferred, so people can have messed up spine issues, when seen on an X-ray but not experience any pain at all or only much later when it has gotten serious. Likewise, those who suffer from a skin condition called allodynia could experience extreme amounts of pain even from a light touch because their brains consider this area vulnerable to possible harm even when there is no real damage done to the body or are affected. Moreover, for things such as period cramps, pain is actually not causing harm but the bodily function itself working to carry out some vital functions, likewise pain from eating some antibiotics inevitably cause pain because they are trying to fight the bad bacteria and heal us.
Pain Can Be The Brain’s Way Of Overprotecting Us
An astonishing case of this is when your brain and body are habituated to parts of your body. Such is the case with phantom limb pain, where the person suffering from it has been missing a certain body part for years, so it is obviously unable to transmit any messages to the brain. However, the brain still thinks that body part exists so it wrongly causes painful triggers in that area, which makes the person feel pain in that area, as if they still have that long-gone body part. So, pain relief in this case, needs to be administered in the brain, not the body. This is one example of the brain trying to protect us, even when there is no need for it.
Pain Duration And Sensitivity
When it comes to pain, the longer it lasts the more we feel it or lesser, which means that we end up feeling pain a lot more if we let it remain and don’t do anything about it, or the latter effect is that we get used to it like a natural process. But, that would be the worst thing to let be because, your neurons will remember and trigger this pain repeatedly, sometimes at heightened levels, because the central nervous system(CNS) wants us to do something about it. So, at times if we fix it much later, it ends up making a relapse because our neurons bring it up again when we do an activity that usually triggers it. For example, relapsing neck pain even after taking pain killers because we are working at our desks, sitting with the wrong posture, the neurons do not let us be. So, when we sit at any desk, it may recall and trigger it from memory, because we have harmed the body for so long and done nothing.
Pain Driven By Psychological Elements
Our neurons do not just transmit signals in our bodies but are also little memory banks, which remember things we do, habits, reflexes and the like. A secret evident in the latest Karate Kid, where Mr. Han makes younger Tyler practice put his jacket on the stand, thereby training his neuron impulses to react by reflex. Likewise, these neurons recall pain as well. So, when you’re sitting at your desk typing away or even lifting a heavy suitcase, the neurons recall the pain and bring it back based on the activity we perform. We then form this mental association between your job or travelling being painful experiences or burdensome. Which further manifests into physical pain, which may be why we always have nagging back or neck pain when sitting at our desks or having body pain each time return home from a trip. This leads us to feel stressed, frustrated, angry, anxious, depressed and more, making our tolerance levels for pain a lot lesser. Further evidence shows that back pain and the like are linked to more emotional and social issues than actual physical aspects. So maybe when meeting someone we dislike, we experience a headache every time or your bad posture at the desk, that you’re used to for years in that job remain till you change to a new one.
Pain Makes Us Socialize
Experiencing pain is also a subjective experience and helps us connect with one another, by bringing out that empathetic or sympathetic side to us. When we talk about our painful experiences with someone, we learn to understand the various experiences that led to that pain and come to mutually understand and support each other. Likewise, when we are in pain this also enables other people to take care of us and make sure we feel better.
Moreover, medical studies state that pain may actually be excruciating, but keeping a positive attitude and staying calm with some yoga, exercise, stress-busting activity or even remaining happy, may the best way to handle pain better.
Any natural ways you handle you pain?