Pain. We have all experienced it at one point, but why do we get it? And why do some develop chronic pain while others appear to brush it off as nothing ever happened? This blog is an introduction as to why we get pain.
Pain is like an alarm; it occurs when your brain perceives damage, or even a threat of damage. It is meant to motivate action to protect the body. On the flipside, pain is not an indicator of damage. With trauma, our body is good at telling us there is a problem, but it is poor at telling us the severity of the damage. How we perceive pain is unique to each individual. Two people can receive the same stimuli, and will have two completely different perceptions of the pain.
Our brain is a fascinating instrument; it can tune information in or out as needs be. It works as an amplifier to focus on the signals coming in. When you are doing things like training or working, other signals override the pain, but when you stop to relax, your brain will have time to focus on the pain again.
Parts of the brain involved in interpreting sensation, memory, emotions and movement are involved in triggering a pain response. Memories or beliefs about your pain can be a trigger as well, e.g. if you encounter a traumatic incident with your back, and you used to get pain on forward bending, you start avoiding that movement. You train your brain to associate forward bending with pain and so the brain starts amplifying the information from the back. This is good to begin with but as healing occurs the pain may persist, which makes no sense as we are taught to believe that if there is pain, there must be damage. This is not necessarily true; at this stage pain is more about sensitivity and less about tissue damage.
This does not mean your pain is not real. The pain you experience is just as real as the pain after a traumatic incident, and much of the protective responses are still occurring, therefore, you are still hurt, but you are not harming yourself. Think of it as when you are holding your hand over a hot stove, your alarm goes off so you experience pain, but there is not any damage to the tissue before you touch the stove. Pain does not mean you are weaker, or more fragile, just more sensitive.
So, hopefully the next time you hear someone say that pain is all in your head you can tell them that is not the case. You can refer them to this blog or Greg Lehmans pain education workbook here. If you have any questions about your experience with pain, get in touch.