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What is pain?

Published: 27 May 2016 - Injury Treatment and Prevention, Pain Management

Image of a person clutching their knee

Pain is our body’s way of telling us something is wrong. But what exactly is pain and why do we feel it at some times more than others?

You feel a shooting pain in your knee. Where is this pain? It’s in my knee of course! That’s not the case.

The myth is that we have pain receptors that activate where damage occurs, making us feel the pain in that area.

For clients in chronic pain, this can mean the thought of further injury if they activate this body part during physio exercises. 

Fact: There are no pain receptors in any part of the body

Pain is an experience created by the brain. It decides how much pain will be felt after taking in a variety of factors and information. You don’t need a body part to feel pain - phantom limb pain is an example of this.

Pain can become a habit if we continue to ‘exercise’ the sensation. Imagine an athlete working out. Through regular training, their muscles get stronger and nerves/brain get more efficient at the task.

This is similar to pain science, we become more sensitised to pain and thus better at producing it.

A great example of pain production was described by Greg Lehman, a physiotherapist and chiropractor in Canada:

If a fire alarm goes off in a building we have no idea if the alarm is due to a large fire, lighter held underneath a sensor, a little bit of smoke or even some problems with the wiring. We can even put of the fire and the fire alarm will still go off. This is how we can think about the pain alarm that goes off in our body. It can stay on long after any damage has healed.

So how does this all apply to us?

Through knowledge we can start to treat chronic pain

Education, desensitising body parts and gradually increasing movement, delivered through a variety of mediums, assist your physiotherapist to get you back into those activities you haven’t been able to do.

Understanding the nature of pain is the first step to wellness.

If you or someone you know is in chronic pain, give us a call to book your free initial assessment.