How and Why Do We Feel Pain?

Each Person Experiences Pain in Different Ways

Pain is a natural part of life. Hopefully, most people only have to deal with acute pain. Unfortunately, for some, their pain lasts much longer. Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than three months. From injuries to illnesses, everyone experiences pain throughout their life.

While pain is a natural bodily function, what do you know about it? Do you know why or how we feel pain? While pain is uncomfortable, it serves a purpose. It is your body’s response to an injury. This damage could range from stubbing your toe to breaking a femur. It could also be a response to an infection or illness in your body. Pain exists to alert the brain that something is wrong.

The nervous system is an intricate and complex system that functions to send vital information to the brain about what is happening in the environment around you. The brain will then respond accordingly, sending messages back to the nerves to help them react. That is why when you burn your hand, you instantly pull away.

Everyone experiences pain in some form throughout life. However, for those that live with chronic pain, this pain persists for months on end, impacting their quality of life. The pain management doctors at Texas Partners Healthcare Group possess the knowledge, skills, and resources to help you find pain relief. Give our Frisco pain management clinic a call to learn how we can help.

Acute Pain vs. Chronic Pain

While everyone does experience pain throughout life, this pain differs from person to person. There are two main categories of pain: acute pain and chronic pain.

  • Acute Pain: This pain is short-term pain. It occurs when you experience a severe or sudden jolt of pain, and it goes away in an expected amount of time. You might experience acute pain if you suffer an injury (such as a broken bone or a burn), get sick, or have surgery. The sensory nerves in the damaged area send messages to your spinal cord, which delivers the message to the brain. But this pain dissipates in relatively short order.
  • Chronic Pain: Unlike acute pain, chronic pain lasts for a considerably long period of time. In acute pain, the pain receptors fire off at the time of the injury. However, they quickly stop after you heal. For chronic pain, these receptors continue to fire long after the injury occurred. This pain lasts longer than three months. Chronic pain can be caused by a disease or a condition that continually damages the body (such as arthritis or fibromyalgia). In many cases, there is no physical cause of pain, yet you continue to feel the same pain response.

Pain can occur for various reasons. In many cases, acute pain is the result of a sudden injury or an illness. On the other hand, chronic pain is the result of a chronic condition.

How Do We Feel Pain?

Earlier, we mentioned why we feel pain. Pain exists to protect the body from further damage. Whenever your brain registers pain, it instantaneously comes up with a response to prevent this pain from continuing. The brain is a massive database that has stored every experience in your life, using these experiences to come up with an appropriate response to pain. But how do you feel pain? The short answer is the nervous system.

The nervous system has two parts: the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (the sensory and motor nerves). Each plays a pivotal role in how we feel pain. The brain and spinal cord are the hub, while the sensory and motor nerves collect information across all areas of the body.

When your body sustains damage, sensory nerves fire off impulses about what occurred to the brain via the spinal cord. Once the brain receives this message, it will then send back information to the nerves, with instructions on how to respond.

The Process

Different nerves respond to stimuli differently, thus producing different chemical responses that determine how we experience these sensations. Pain receptors called nociceptors activate whenever you suffer an injury, a potential injury, or inflammation. Even if something doesn’t break the skin, the pressure placed on the skin is enough to activate these pain receptors.

The receptors then send an impulse through the nerves to the spinal cord, which then sends it to your brain. This entire process happens within a fraction of a second.

The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that sends and receives all kinds of signals to the brain. Even though the pain messages still go to the brain, part of the spinal cord called the dorsal horn sends a response to the area of injury on how to react. Your brain does not need to tell the injured area what to do because the dorsal horn already did so. The dorsal horn simultaneously sends signals to the brain and back down the spinal cord to the injured area.

When the brain receives the signal, it interprets the message in a few different ways. While the response has already been sent to the injured area, pain requires more than just a stimulus and response. The brain needs to understand what happened and how it happened. Where did this pain come from, and how does it differ from other sources of pain?

The brain also associates emotions with every sensation you experience (including pain), which then generates a different response. Sometimes you might cry, others your heart rate increases, or sometimes you might sweat excessively.

What Else Impacts How We Feel Pain?

The body’s response to pain is different from person to person. What is painful to one person might only cause slight discomfort for another. Some people have much higher pain thresholds than others, while some people have higher pain sensitivity.

As we mentioned early, these pain messages travel through various regions in your body, especially in your brain. Because your brain associates these signals with emotional and psychological responses, so much more than the physical sensations shapes your experience.

Past experiences, current emotions, and social factors play a part in how you respond to pain. If you just got into an argument with your spouse, then you step on a rock, your response will look much different than if you were having a regular day and weren’t mad.

Your experiences about stepping on a rock might differ if the last time you stepped on one, you developed an infection. However, if your past experience was minor, then the pain you feel this time might be mild, and it may heal much faster.

Your past experiences with pain, your current mood, genetic factors, and long-term health problems (such as fibromyalgia or complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)) can all affect how you experience and handle pain. Those with neuralgia have a higher pain sensitivity than those who don’t.

Because of how your brain processes pain, a host of factors play a role in how you experience and feel pain.

Contact Our Frisco Pain Management Clinic 

Everyone experiences pain. For some, they only experience acute pain when they twist their ankle or suffer a burn. Others live with chronic pain, in the form of back pain, neck pain, leg pain, among others. Regardless, pain is complicated. The signals that travel through your body reach various areas, interacting in different ways.

The pain management doctors at Texas Partners Healthcare Group have a thorough understanding of the processes of pain. They possess the knowledge, resources, and skills to diagnose your pain accurately and develop an effective pain management program. Contact our clinic today to learn how we can help you find pain relief.