Complementary Therapists > Pain > How We Feel Pain
The Role of Pain
Why and How We Feel Pain
The way that we experience pain and how the body copes with or handles it have only recently begun to be understood in any meaningful way. Scientists across the world have contributed to the bigger picture of an very detailed and interactive system. However there remain many problems yet to be solved.
The experience of physical pain is mediated by a comparable mechanism to other sensations of our bodies. A stimulus is felt in some part of the body - a pain such as stubbing your toe or a toothache, or a sensation of touch or smell. This message is sent along a nerve to our spinal cord, then it travels up the spinal cord to the brain, and terminates in the particular part of the brain that deals with that particular sensation.
The brain then interprets the signal and it is only here that the sensation of pain or smell or heat or cold is perceived. In the event that the nerve ending near to the source of the pain is faulty, then the pain may not be felt. This is the reason that people whose nerves have degenerated for some reason can suffer Physical damage without noticing. For example, with leprosy, the protective covering of the nerves, known as the myelin sheath, is damaged by bacterium so that the sufferers don't realise that they have badly hurt a finger.
In other cases some neural damage can lead to even greater pain. The herpes simplex virus also seems to damage the myelin sheathing of the nerve but the lack of insulation can cause one current to flow into other nearby neurons and send even more pain sensations to the brain receptors. There are of many different types of neurons that have different functions. They can be wide or thin and have protective sheaths or may not.
They also have many different types of nerve endings and it seems to be the nerve endings that are particular to various sensations. Pain nerve endings are known as nociceptors and once again there are different types which are receptive to hot and cold or even mechanical stimuli such as a pin prick or a more drawn out dull stimulus.
These receptors are agitated at the nerve ending by an electrical action or by a chemical action. Chemicals appear to change the configuration of the cell wall and other different substances can also act in this way, some to causing pain and others to diminish it.
Intensity of Pain
In some events it is the experience of intense pain is what helps the body to protect itself from harm or damage. For example if we touch something that is very hot, our nerves act very quickly hat produces a reflex that pulls our hand away from the heat.
On other occasions where the body needs to employ our fight or flight reactions, it can help us to block out or postpone the feeling of pain until the emergency has passed. The hormone Adrenaline is generated to prepare the body for the emergency and seems to be able to inhibit or interrupt the transmission of pain.
The body can also create a number of chemical messengers in reaction to stimuli of pain. Many of these messengers are peptides that are molecules consisting strings of amino acids. Some increase the blood flow to the affected part of the body or some produce histamine which generate repair mechanisms.
There are other peptides that have been called endorphins or encephalins and these help to inhibit or interrupt the transmission of pain in the brain by blocking the receptors. Over 50 of these peptide messengers have been classified but it is unclear why the body needs so many. These peptides act in a similar way to opiates but do not seems to be addictive and are employed in the case of prolonged periods of pain.
Some research seems to suggest that a nerve pathway can only sustain so much activity and the activity in one block of neurons will lower the activity in other blocks. Therefore if some usual sensation is going to the brain, it may block out or diminish the activity of the nociceptors.
The pain gate proposal provides a substantial challenge to the normal treatment of pain. Medical treatment for physical pain, especially for severe and chronic pain was, and still is, with powerful drugs with strong and sometimes dangerous or unpleasant side-effects. Nevertheless, the pain gate theory may make it possible to treat pain in a much gentler and holistic way. It has paved the way for complementary therapies such as those featured on this website.
Our Attitude to Pain
It is very important to think about pain in an appropriate manner. It is a natural and typical reaction to fight pain or be angry because one is experiencing pain.
However pain should not be completely suppressed or treated as an enemy of the body. This usually causes additional tensions and unproductive messages being sent to the body from the mind. Instead of this we should learn to pay careful attention to the messages which the body sends us.
We should take advantage of what conventional medicine can offer, make use of the natural therapies described on this website, and use a pacing technique which help eliminate the need to break the pain barrier, it is possible control your pain.
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