Your walking along the street and it’s a beautiful day under the redwoods. The sun is shining, birds chirping. Then one false step and you stub your toe. Your Birkenstocks failed to save your big toe from the cement curb. Pain travels up from your toe and stops you in your tracks. Last week we tried to clear up some old wives tales concerning pain. Now lets move on to how we actually feel pain, and answer some questions how people feel pain differently.
How does one feel pain? We’ll explain it here, trying to avoid some of the boring techno mumbo-jumbo. So you stub your toe. You have many receptors in your skin. Some have the job of telling your brain your toe is cold or hot, some sense touch, others can tell you your shoe is too tight and yes there are ones that let you know your in pain.
Your body is smart and these receptors are concentrated in areas of the body that are prone to injury-like your fingers and toes. (That’s why a paper cut can kill) So your toe hits the cement, pain receptors send the message up the nerve they branch off from. This nerve joins the others in your back to form the spinal cord to tell your brain and your conscience of the collision your toe just suffered. This whole process happens in just the blink of an eye.
This used to be all we knew about pain. It turns out the body is more complicated than that. During World War II doctors noticed the degree of pain an injured veteran was in did not correlate with how badly hurt he was. Researches were inspired to dig deeper and they found that there are gatekeepers in your spine.
The messages they decide are most important get through and can tell your brain what’s going on. Other messages are just left at the gate. Remember when your mom used to kiss your scraped knee when you were young. Well she knew what she was doing. Some of the pain receptor would be turned away because of competing sensory receptors.
Now on to how the same pain stimulus can affect people differently. Emotional state, upbringing and attitude all come in to play. Just think of the person who is already bracing up walking in to the dentist office.
On the flip side, you your emotional state can work in your favor. People condition themselves to endure pain that would stop the rest of us dead in our tracts. Just imagine trying to walk over hot coals, as firewalkers do without any conditioning!
More and more doctors are learning about pain and unfortunately more people are also suffering from chronic pain. Now that I’ve explained a little bit on how pain works, I hope those of you who suffer from pain can go to their practitioners and work at getting rid of it.