Understanding Pain

Updated: Jan 17

If you've ever seen a child fall over their reaction often depends on the reactions from those around them. If the adults around them are shocked and concerned tears start flowing. Distracting the child can mitigate the pain. It may sound crazy, but if you can't see the extent of the injury is the pain level affected? Scientifically there is an explanation to this.

Our brains have a surprising amount of control over our pain response and it is an incredibly complex process and like all human attributes very individual. The same injury can feel completely different person to person. You may think someone is overreacting or is particularly sensitive but it is down to how the information about the injury is translated by the brain. The brain provides what it deems an appropriate response with the information it has about the injury.

Pain doesn’t originate at the location of the injury, pain comes from the brain. The site of the injury is where the nociceptors are. Nociceptors alert our brains to potentially damaging stimuli, so if we cut our finger, our nociceptors send a message to our brain about what just happened, the brain then gathers all available knowledge to asses the situation.

I remember when I was ten I broke both the bones in my forearm (radius and ulna) falling off my bike, I had absolutely no idea I had done anything to my arm until I saw it bent like I had never seen it bent before, and suddenly, boom! I was in pain.

So the nociceptors sent a message to my brain, my brain didn’t have much more information at the time, no prior knowledge, no visual stimuli, I didn’t hear the break. The delayed response and feeling of pain was downplayed, until I saw the injury and my brain decided, ‘Okay, I think this is pretty serious so I’m going to send strong pain signals to the area.’

The brain takes all the information it has at its disposal before sending the pain response, it translates the messages from the nociceptors and asks, what does it look like? Has this happened before? Do I have any history with similar experiences? What knowledge can I apply to this situation? With all this information the brain then sends what it deems the appropriate pain response to the area.

Sometimes the brain doesn’t make the right decision and can put us into a state of debilitating pain when it’s not necessary, other times it can under play the pain. For this reason, getting professional advice is really helpful. A little knowledge can have the power to reduce or magnify the pain, so be careful when you Google.

This then plays into the best methods of recovery post an injury or episode of pain.

Movement is the often the recommended cure for rehabilitation. There are many physiological reasons for this, but one of them is that gradual movement teaches the brain that it is safe to move again and therefore reduce the pain signals.

There are trials in progress that gradually stress the tendons of people with tendonapathies testing the theory that it will teach the brain that the movement is safe and therefore stop sending pain signals to the brain.

Using the same philosophy massage can assist with the gradual relief of pain, the pressure sending signals to the brain in a safe and nurturing environment that helps the brain rethink the pain signals required.

As a massage therapist, we are constantly learning how to work with and relieve pain. What we say can be incredibly powerful, our aim is to always assist the relief of pain, we don’t want to give you information that may make your pain worse. We want to acknowledge the pain you are in, and work with you to reduce the effect it has on your life.

Although pain comes from the brain, it is still very real.