What is Pain

Part I – Pain and the Brain

One of the main reasons clients come to see me is because they are suffering from some type of pain, and that pain has persisted beyond the threshold of “normal”. Many have been through a myriad of tests, procedures and examinations; both invasive and non-invasive. They have often been prescribed medications that have had minimal or no effect. They are told that there is no objective evidence for the cause of their pain, or that they will “just have to live with it”. Many are rubber stamped with a “Syndrome”, or even worse, made to feel like they should not be suffering any pain at all and are left with nowhere to turn or find support.

To address the issue of pain, and to learn more about it, we are embarking on this web-series. Throughout the next several months, we will explore the causes of pain, and how your brain plays a key role in what your body is feeling.

What is Pain?

Why is it that some people feel extreme pain in the absence of any “objective” evidence to explain it? Conversely, why do others feel no pain, despite serious injury or disease? If you have ever been asked by a medical professional to describe your pain, do you often feel at a loss? Although many theories about the origins of pain have been put forward through the years, many have been proven false, or incomplete. As we learn about the nervous system and the complex workings of the brain, our understanding will become more defined. However, I do feel that current theories do offer many answers.

“Pain is the brain’s way of helping us avoid serious injury”

Consider what happens when your hand barely touches a burner, or your toe dips into a very hot bath. Almost before you register the pain, your body reacts, and you quickly jerk away from the source. According to the “gate-control theory” of pain, specialized nerve cells in the spinal cord act as “gatekeepers” to filter pain messages on their way to your brain. When more pain receptors are stimulated than normal receptors, the gate opens so pain messages can get to your brain fast, prompting a response: “move away from the stove!”. On the other hand, if no input is received in the spinal cord, or if the balance does not tip in favor of the pain receptors, the gate remains closed and the message does not move on to the brain. This theory also seems to explain how pain is reduced through touch. We often rub an area that has recently suffered an acute injury, and experience a lessening of pain. This is effective because the action of rubbing actually stimulates more “normal” receptors, therefore inhibiting the pain receptors and closing the gateway. This is the same reason acupuncture could also prove effective in relieving pain; the sensory touch-points close the gate so pain sensations can’t get through.

Theory contends that your brain also works to de-code the pain, and determine if you are in danger, in part by accessing your past experiences. If the brain determines the danger is imminent, then pain will result. A lack of pain can indicate that your brain has concluded that danger is not present, or that a sensation of pain could cause a more serious threat.

To learn more about how Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy can manage and alleviate your pain, or to schedule an appointment, please contact me!

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