What is pain?

Pain is such a negative experience. What purpose does it serve? Pain helps to keep us out of danger. It keeps us from harming ourselves, and helps us to go through the stages of healing properly. What causes pain? Pain is a sensation caused by your nervous system, particularly your brain, which is trying to send a signal to bring about a change. A change would be something like moving your hand away from a hot stove, where it would become damaged if it stayed there too long. In this sense, pain is similar to hunger or thirst in that it is meant to bring about an action to satisfy a need.

If it is all the nervous system, then why do I hurt in my joints, muscles, and bones?

This is a fairly complex mechanism, so here is a summary:

1)       When the brain receives a trigger it perceives as a threat, it wants to know more about it.

2)      It therefore will increase the sensitivity of the nerves surrounding the area that is threatened.

3)      Nerves that have become sensitive are stimulated more easily by movement.  Therefore, they cause the surrounding muscles to tighten up to try and limit the stimulation of these nerves.

4)      The result is movements become guarded.  One of the initial jobs of pain is to keep you from moving so that tissue problems can resolve.

Important point: This is why hurt does not equal harm. Pain is very effective at keeping you from injuring yourself. Once the pain response is initiated, pain will limit movements to a safe range and it is highly unlikely that you will cause further tissue damage by moving.

5)      Since nerves exist in the body’s moving parts (muscles, joints, on the surface of bones), these areas are where you feel the pain.

This is why certain movements hurt.  Certain movements cause the stimulation of these sensitive nerves.

So why does the pain seem to spread out? Until the brain is convinced that the threat is resolved, it will keep the nerves sensitive and the movement restricted. This, in turn, limits movement of other nerves elsewhere and may reduce their oxygen supply, making them sensitive and possibly painful. As more nerves become sensitive, more movements become pain triggers.

What can you do about it? Physical Therapy is a great way to interrupt the pain cycle, get you moving again, and start the healing process. If you are in pain, ask your doctor if physical therapy is right for you. If you are in the San Antonio area, come see the experts at Momentum Physical Therapy & Sports Rehab. Come to us and find out what “hands-on care for faster results” really means. Our highly trained physical therapists can help relieve your pain and get you back to life. Call us today!

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