What is Pain?

October 8, 2015

 

Pain is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with tissue damage or potential tissue damage. Pain is usually caused by a noxious (painful) stimulus but may be experienced in the absence of stimulus.

 

 

PHYSICAL PAIN (nociception)

The brain is made aware of painful stimuli in the following steps:

1. Painful stimuli alert pain receptors (A-delta for temperature change, or C-fibres for pressure and heat/burning). 

2. Pain message is sent along the peripheral nerve (eg. from your finger to the brain) to the spinal cord.

3. The pain message travels up the spinal cord into the brain.

 

An acute stimulus will lead to excitatory pain signals sent to the brain. This means, if someone steps on your toe, your toe will sense this, send signals to the brain via your spinal cord, and you will experience pain in your toe. 

A chronic stimulus may lead to peripheral or central sensitization. This means that long-term inflammation in the tissues (whether you are aware of it or not) leads to hyper-excitability of the pain receptors. In more simple terms, long-term inflammation makes it easier for your body to acknowledge pain and for the pain response to be exaggerated and maintained.

This means more pain for longer periods of time.

 

EMOTIONAL PAIN

Emotional pain is a whole other story. Emotional pain is literally “all in your head”.

This does not mean that emotional pain is not real though. It is very real. 

Emotional pain response is unique in each individual depending on factors such as expectation, anticipation, anxiety, and depression. These emotions “super-charge” the area of the brain that makes you aware of pain, amplifying the pain experience. Therefore, the experience of pain is highly correlated with the anticipation of experiencing pain the future. The more you anticipate and worry about future pain, the greater the actual pain experience will be once a noxious stimulus is encountered.

More worry = more pain!

 

How can you decrease your emotional pain experience?

Diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, and relaxation are all very important strategies in calming the mind and ultimately the emotional pain response.

Chiropractic care, postural correction, and exercise are also very important!

Come in to talk to us about these strategies today!

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