How is Pain Registered in the Body?

This series is a very basic overview, not an in-depth study on pain. There’s an amazing organization dedicated to the study of pain called the IASP (International Association of the Study of Pain) that has a comprehensive online database available to its members if you’d like more detailed information.

Pain receptors called nociceptors are found in the skin, superficial tissue and all organs except the brain. They’re free nerve endings connected to two types of nerve fibers: myelinated (A) and unmyelinated (C). the myelinated neurons send the initial fast pain signal while the unmyelinated signal is the slower pain signal that follows.

Journey of pain

  1. stimulus
  2. nociceptor activates and sends the signal to the
  3. spinal cord which carries it to the
  4. brain which interprets the information and determines location of pain, then sends a
  5. signal back to the body to illicit appropriate response

Gate Control Theory

Since nociceptors are carried on smaller nerve fibers than non-pain signals, the theory holds that stimulating a painful area by rubbing, etc. blocks the passage of the pain signal.

So rubbing your head after you slam it into a cupboard, kissing a boo-boo, massage and other body work would be examples of the Gate Control Theory.

Another way to increase pain threshold (how much pain you can tolerate before you HAVE to do something about it) is to think about other things or distract yourself. I’m not suggesting we do this in every situation, but it demonstrates the power of the mind over physical stimuli.

Remember, pain is a signal that something needs to be changed.

That brings us to our next post, which will review some bodywork options that can reduce the frequency and severity of pain.

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black and white image of a woman holding her wrist in pain