We all feel pain. Whether it is a scraped knee when playing in the yard or a fractured bone in an accident, pain is a universal feeling. Of course, there are lots of different types of pain. Pain is often useful – for instance, if you accidentally wrap your hand over a hair curler without knowing what it is, you are instantly in pain and drop it. Your hand hurts afterwards but it would have been much worse if you hand’t felt that instant jolt of pain and dropped the curler onto the sink. Just as useful as it is, it is varied. You don’t feel the same pain when you have a sharp rock in your shoe, have a stomachache or a migraine.
So, how does pain work?
The answer, like with most neurological things, is pretty complex.
Your nervous system is comprised of your spinal cord and your brain. These make the central nervous system. Your nerves make the peripheral nervous system. Your central nervous system receives the information from the peripheral nervous system, which exists around the entirety of your body. Your nerves send information to your brain in an instant and your brain sends information back to your nerves to perform an action and/or reaction in another split second.
That’s why pain always begins with your nerves.
For instance, you have fallen over. Certain nerves respond to certain outside stimuli. Pain receptors are called noiceceptors and activate whenever you have injured yourself, even if the injury is minimal.
Your spinal cord is in charge of your reflexes and of sending the information that you are in pain to the brain. For instance, in the above example, when you wrapped your hand around a hot hair curler, your brain doesn’t need to tell you to drop it. Your spinal cord is in charge of that, because it is in charge of your reflexes.
Once that happens, the pain still continues and gets to the brain. You are still in pain after you have dropped the hair curler and your brain still needs to interpret what has happened. Your brain associates certain emotions with that particular type of pain and then decides whether or not it’s a big deal. The process is already complex, and is affected by everything that is happening in your nervous system including what your expectations are, whether you are afraid of anxious and if you have ever experienced this type of pain before.
There are some mysteries regarding pain, especially when it comes to chronic pain. If you are interested in this topic, you may want to check out the TEDx talk given by Lorimer Moseley.