Pain science has come a long way in the last 10 years! We’re now able to use modern imaging techniques to see exactly what happens when we’re in pain, and naturally this information is incredibly useful to healthcare professionals (like the osteopaths and sports therapists at our clinic!) when it comes to helping patients to reduce their aches and pains.
So, what’s new in the world of pain science?
100% of pain happens in the brain…
We now know that 100% of the time, 100% of pain happens in the brain. You might remember a little picture in your biology textbook at school, that showed a finger sending pain signals to the brain because it was pricked by a needle, or burnt on a candle. Well, we now know that that’s not true!
The nerve endings around our bodies are always sending information up to the brain about all sorts of things; temperature, stretch, different chemicals that might be present… And it is inside the brain that these signals are moderated and made sense of.
Put simply, based on the information passed to the brain that decides whether the body part is in pain or not.
How your brain can change it’s mind!
In chronic pains lasting for more than a few months, the brain can become more sensitive to pain signals. This sensitisation can result in previously non-painful activities becoming painful for some patients.
The brain uses a back catalogue of experiences to decide exactly how painful something is at a given moment. In bad circumstances, even small injuries can be made to feel especially painful by the brain – have you ever stubbed your toe when your feet are cold? (That’s an example!)
Painkillers work in the brain
Because pain is moderated and experienced in the brain, this is where many painkillers take effect. The chemicals block or change pain signals in the brain to dampen them, or stop the patient from feeling the pain at all.
This is also true of natural painkilling chemicals, like the endorphin hormones that your body releases when you exercise.