How can understanding pain help me?

Pain is complex. Put simply, it is an unpleasant experience that emerges from the body when the evaluation of all the available information suggests that we need to protect a part of your body.
In your body there are special sensors called ‘receptors’. Receptors inform your spinal cord and brain about the world – inside and around you. These receptors are all over your body, they are involved in hearing, seeing and tasting. A special group of receptors called ‘nociceptors’ lie within your skin, joints and organs – these are involved in the experience of pain. Nociceptors also have connections with other systems including the endocrine and immune system. This makes the experience of pain complex.

Nociceptors send signals to the spinal cord and brain. Once this signal arrives at the brain, it will mix with present thoughts, beliefs, emotions, sensations, memories, the environment and the context. This complex assessment of information determines whether there is a threat to a part of your body. If it determines that we need protecting, pain is the output – the thing we will experience.

The spinal cord and brain may amplify or dampen the signals along the way which can also contribute to your pain experience. As you can see, pain is more complex than simply what is happening in your tissues.

“Pain is the end result. Pain is an output from the brain, designed to protect you. It is not something that comes from your tissues”. Professor Lorimer Moseley

With persistent pain:

Your nervous system can become too protective, and start producing unnecessary warning signals.

  • Your nerves can become more sensitive.
  • Pain can be triggered more easily.
  • Your spinal cord and brain can learn pain and get better at producing it.
  • The pain can spread or move.
  • You can get pain without physical stimulus – thoughts, feelings, places etc can all produce warning signals.

Why is it helpful to understand your pain?

The way you have interpreted your pain can actually affect the amount of pain that you feel as well as your behaviour because of pain. We now know from many studies that if you have learned that your pain represents a serious threat to your body, your brain responds by amplifying pain by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters.

Research also tells us that when you learn that the cause of your pain is not dangerous, the brain will dampen the experience of pain by releasing natural pain relieving chemicals.

Find out more about persistent pain by watching the link below or working through the retrain pain resource.