The human organism is a complex structure of multiple systems, cells and organs that work in unison. A whole series of events has to happen before we feel anything, including pain. How does our brain communicate with the nerves to send signals and make us feel this distressing sensation? Do you really understand how pain works?
How Does Pain Work?
Our body is able to detect and sense danger, such as temperature and pressure changes that could be harmful, with the help of the nervous system. It contains special nerves calle, nociceptors, which become active whenever they sense a potential injury. When the neuron receives a stimulus and fires off, it transfers that signal to the next neuron in line until it reaches the central nervous system.
From the central system, our brain evaluates the information (signal) it received. Only then do we feel the sensation. Pain is actually the result of our brain’s assessment of the situation, combined with other factors such as previous exposure, social beliefs, and expectations. Different neural pathways are activated for normal perception compared to the painful one. With non-damaging stimuli, such as a light touch or pressure, somatic receptors are activated beforehand. With a painful stimulant, nociceptors fire off first.
The Progression of Pain
Any type of injury is usually characterized by an intense, sharp pain in the exact moment when it occurs. Once it somewhat subsides, we’re met with a duller, longer-lasting and somewhat annoying ache. This is due to different types of nociceptors that differ in how fast they transfer stimuli.
They are known as A and C fiber axons. A fiber axons are surrounded with myelin, a protective, fatty substance that increases the speed at which signal travels from one nerve cell to another. These A axons transfer the information which results in the initial, sharp pain. On the contrary, C fiber axons are not sheathed with myelin, therefore transferring the signals slower and causing pain even after the object that caused the stimuli is removed.
Different Types of Pain
Separate neural circuits are responsible for acute (short-term) pain, and chronic (long-lasting) one. Acute pain is useful as it keeps us away from danger. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to realize how damaging breaking a bone or cutting our finger is. This type is easy to treat, and usually goes away on its own shortly after removing the source of injury. However, in worst cases it can last for up to 6 months. Chronic pain persists even after the initial cause is removed. It’s usually considered as a disease state. In some severe cases, the underlying cause might be of psychological origin. Chronic pain can be a result of dysregulation of glial (non-neural cells) functions in both central and peripheral nervous system. Those suffering from this type are regularly medicated for pain management.
Knowing how pain works plays an important role in our everyday lives. It’s a vital process that keeps us away from dangerous situations, but even our nerve cells can be wrong sometimes. This just shows that even our body, a complex concoction of elements, isn’t perfect after all.