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  • Dr Andrew Smy

Why Do We Feel Pain?

Every single one of us will experience some sort of pain in our lifetime, physical or emotional, often both. But what if I told you it was all in your head? Now I don’t mean that you’re making it up, the pain is real. But it might not be happening how you think it is.


The brain is an amazing thing. It’s the most important organ in your body, and is responsible for absolutely everything you do.


There are many different factors that contribute to the pain you experience. Your body has millions of sensors all along every nerve in your body. Mechanical receptors respond to sensations such as a change in pressure, like someone pinching you. Temperature receptors respond to changes of temperature, like touching a hot saucepan or a block of ice. Chemical receptors respond to changes in chemical levels, and can be from external factors such as pollen (felt as hayfever), or from internal reactions within the body, like a build of lactic acid after exercise (felt as DOMS).


When stimulated, these sensors send an electrical impulse along the neuron. If enough are stimulated at once, it reaches the ‘all of nothing point’, and an action potential is generated. This action potential travels along the neuron until it reaches the end in your spinal cord, where there is a synapse (a gap) before the next neuron. Enough action potentials have to reach the synapse in order for the signal to be sent up the spinal cord to the brain. If this happens, the brain receives a message that says ‘DANGER’, it does NOT say pain.



The brain then has to interpret this danger message, along with many other factors. This can include information from your 5 senses about what kind of environment you’re in, previous experiences you’ve had that may be similar, and whether or not it will be beneficial for you to experience this sensation as pain. Some people that have survived shark attacks but lost a limb have described the feeling as ‘just a bump’, as it was their brain’s way of making sure they stayed focused on escape rather than their limb.


If your brain determines this ‘DANGER’ signal to be a large enough threat, then it will send a signal back saying that you’re in pain. The pain is a warning signal telling you that you need to do something about it, either remove yourself from the harmful situation, or seek help to get the problem resolved.

If you’ve been suffering with pain and want to do something about it, why not book in for a FREE discovery visit with one of our clinicians to see how we can help!


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