Pain tells your body to protect itself. It’s a signal for your brain to produce pain inhibitors and tell you to address the part where you are hurting.
A bad breakup. A direct hit to the toe in the dark. The stubborn flu that makes your entire body ache.
Pain comes in many forms, and everyone has experienced their own versions in a variety of ways.
For this reason, it’s hard to describe how severe the pain is, and because people have different thresholds of pain.
However, one thing is clear: where the pain comes from.
While you may think it’s fairly obvious, it depends on the situation or on the part where you hurt yourself on any given day. But the truth is: pain is truly all in your head.
And no, we’re not just referring to a migraine or getting hit with a fly ball. These are far too literal examples of having a pain in the head.
We mean that, when it comes to feeling pain, your physical reactions come from the nerves in your brain. They tell you where exactly you SHOULD be feeling pain, depending on where the cause originated.
Why Pain Isn’t Just Essential, But Healthy
Feeling pain as a response is generally taken for granted, like every other emotion.
But feeling pain is a good thing for you to feel. Really.
Pain is a sophisticated and instantaneous chain reaction, and it happens for a reason: to protect you.
When your brain registers pain, your body will typically stop doing what caused it to feel the emotion in the first place, which is indeed its own natural safety mechanism.
It all trails back to that handy “fight or flight” instinct, where the pain is your body’s idea of letting you know that whatever is causing the reaction is harmful to you, and you need to stop what you’re doing to protect yourself.
It starts when the reaction occurs at the source of your injury or inflammation.
When the impact takes place, the body will automatically respond by stimulating your pain receptors, which in turn releases those vital chemicals that awaken you to your problem.
This process of registering pain is called nociception.
These chemicals then carry the message directly to the spinal cord, following through its receptors and into the brain. These transactions will be received by the thalamus and delivered to the cerebral cortex, the portion of the brain that processes this message.
Simply put, the message from the injury site on the body will travel from where you’re hurt immediately to your brain, where it will register as pain. Your brain then acknowledges that pain, returning the message back down to the area where your body is hurting.
And, as you well know from experience, this process occurs almost instantaneously.
So while you may not be a fan of the feeling itself, it’s a necessary emotion that has probably kept you alive far more times than you could count.
Different Kinds of Pain Can Disrupt the Nervous System
For all the kinds of pain felt by people on a regular basis, certain kinds can actually trigger responses that will affect your nervous system entirely.
The specific chemicals unleashed by your body when an injury erupts or induced when the body has other abnormal processes taking place can cause changes to appear in the nervous system.
These changes are then directly correlated to the type of pain you experience.
After all, the central nervous system is designed to automatically inhibit any unpleasant reactions like pain.
When you only suffer from acute pain, such as from stubbing a toe or getting a paper cut, the sensation occurs normally. The response takes place, and the pain stops when the injury is healed.
However, if you suffer from chronic pain, you’ll end up having an entirely different neural event taking place.
With chronic pain sufferers, the nervous system’s normal function is altered from the constant barrage of messages, making your body more sensitive to pain in general.
Your nerve cells can become so sensitive to the constant stress that your brain will perceive even the gentlest touch as a painful one.
Physical evidence acquired and studied through MRI scans has indicated that an unusual amount of stimulation in the minds of chronic pain patients is common, meaning their feeling of pain is physically altered and felt more extensively than normal.
Memory can also play a role in how people understand and feel pain.
The brain can retain the emotional intensity of a painful event that’s already occurred.
So, when you suffer from the same injury or affliction that you’ve previously reacted to in the past, your brain can actually trace back to this earlier episode and remember its response to this same stimulus beforehand.
However, despite this memory, every reaction is generally different, depending on what’s causing the initial trigger and its overall impact on your body each time.
Coming Around on the Side of Pain
Clearly, no one wants to feel pain on a regular basis. But should you be happy that you feel the response at all? Absolutely.
Of all of the emotions we feel, pain has its place in our lives for a reason: to protect us from harm and alert us to safety hazards.
While getting lost in the feelings of love or happiness may be more welcome in our daily lives, pain is honestly more crucial to our continuing existence, and therefore deserves more praise than it gets for the duties it performs.
So, the next time you stub your toe or have your heart broken by an unworthy suitor, keep in mind that the pain you’re feeling is just another way of telling you that you’re still alive, ready to carry on another day.
Another day for the better feelings to come along and erase the pain altogether.