Our brain and our pain

Our brain and pain, how they are connected and why this is normal

Pain is a warning system for the body

Updated 12/5/2022

Pain is something that everyone has experienced at some point in their lifetime; whether it is emotional or physical pain. So, we can all agree that pain is a normal life experience.  If you are not able to experience pain it is a medical condition called congenital analgesia. People with this condition often end up with many physical injuries (burns, fractures, infections) due to the lack of a warning system, which is what pain is. Pain is a way for the body to protect itself and is a danger signal to the brain.

If you touch a hot oven or hot pan with your hand a danger signal (nerve impulse) will be sent from your hand to your brain saying; Look over here, we have a situation.  The brain decides to either acknowledge the danger signal from the hand or ignore it.  Our brain likes to protect our body, so we pull our hand off the hot oven.  One cool thing about our brain is it does have the ability to ignore pain if there is a greater risk. For example, if you step off a curb and twist your ankle; what do you do?  You may fall to the ground and grab your ankle because it hurts and after some time limp to your car.

But what happens if a bus is coming down the street when you fall and twist your ankle? Suddenly your sprained ankle is as big of an issue as the bus coming down the street!  Our brain can ignore the pain from the sprained ankle in order to get out the way of the bus.  Now once you are safe and the adrenaline has decreased your ankle will begin to hurt and this is normal. Pain is an indication that your body has started the healing process for your ankle and you didn’t even have to tell your body to do this!

Our bodies just do this on their own!

When we experience pain or the brain creates a little pain memory; what happened, who was with you, smells, among many other things go into creating this memory.    There are many parts of the brain that are involved in making memories and this is the case with injuries and pain as well.  Often once the injury heals the pain memory is harder to recall and is sometimes forgotten.  But sometimes the pain doesn’t go away, and more and more areas of the brain get pulled into the pain memory and start paying attention to the area of the body that is painful.  When this happens, it may become harder to concentrate, move, sleep and perform activities you had previously performed without really thinking about it.

This is where physical therapy can be beneficial. Research has shown that physical therapy can be beneficial to people who are experiencing chronic pain. There are many interventions we can provide to help you improve your level of function. We have hands-on techniques which can improve how joints and muscles are moving. Along with this we provide education on pain; it has been shown in research that educating patients about pain, the nervous system, and the brain can help calm the nervous system and reduce pain levels.  We can help re-educate the brain that moving the body part in pain isn’t going to cause injury.   Last, but not least, is exercise.  The effect exercise can have on both our minds and bodies is amazing and too long to list in this post.  Our bodies are meant to move, and movement helps calm the brain and nerves.

So, to summarize, pain is normal, pain is the brain recognizing a danger signal from the body, pain can have an effect on other areas of the brain, and physical therapy can help.  Just know there is help is out here if you have been experiencing pain over a long period of time.

Here is a video that explains it as well in less than 5 minutes.

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