Pain – it’s an unfortunate fact of life, and at some time or another, we all experience it. But what is pain? Does it serve a purpose? What are the causes of pain? To help you understand pain a little better, here are the answers to some intriguing questions.
The nervous system is made up of nerve fibres. Some of the nerve endings are sensitive to pain. These are called nociceptors. The nerve fibres are constantly telling your brain what is going on with your body and your environment. When you’re ill or you hurt yourself, the nociceptors transmit pain signals to your brain, via your spinal cord. At the same time, the tissues around the affected area release chemicals called prostaglandins. These chemicals help amplify the pain signals – to make sure your brain listens.
Quite simply, to help protect you. For example, if you sprain your ankle, the pain tells you that you’ve hurt yourself and that you need to take action. It also acts as a deterrent so that you don’t put any additional strain on the affected area.
Some people have very high pain thresholds, others low pain thresholds. The reason for this is probably perception. The brain works by association, which means, if you’ve had a particularly painful experience in your past, your brain may link any future pain with your previous experience, and, as a result, you may find it more difficult to cope with your new pain.
Your pain threshold is also affected by your emotions: if you’re depressed or anxious, your threshold may be low. Strong emotions, such as excitement or fear, can actually temporarily stop you from feeling pain.