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What is pain?

  • Why we feel pain

    Protecting Ourselves

    Pain happens for one reason: to protect you. Pain is your body’s alarm system. Its purpose is to alert you to potentially harmful situations so you can avoid (or stop) doing those things that cause pain. It can help you protect a damaged body part while it heal and teach you how to avoid painful situations in the future.

    Pain starts at the source of the injury or swelling. Your body then relays pain information to your brain through a quick but complicated chain-reaction process. Most pain goes away as soon as the source of pain is removed and your body has healed. But sometimes pain can persist.

    How pain messages travel

    The nervous system

    Pain messages travel through two sets of nerves that connect your skin, muscles, bones, joints and internal organs to your spinal cord.

    Some nerves (peripheral) respond to touch, pressure, vibration, cold or warmth. Others (nociceptors) respond to actual damage to your body (such as a backsprain). Your nerves relay the pain message as an electrical impulse to your spinal cord. Your spinal cord sends the information to your brain’s thalamus, a kind of sorting machine that forwards the information to three parts of your brain, which are the:

    • physical-sensation part that identifies the pain
    • emotional-feeling part that experiences (suffers) the pain
    • thinking part that helps figure out how to relieve the pain
  • Male in cast