Nobody wants pain, but without it, we wouldn't survive for long. Its purpose is to protect us from danger by changing our behaviour. An example of this is telling us to quickly take our hand off the hot stovetop so we don't get burnt, or making us limp when we sprain an ankle, so we can heal. Pain has evolved over millions of years to keep us alive.
So what is pain, really?
The pain experience is produced by your brain, in response to a perceived danger. For instance, if you accidentally put your hand on the hot stovetop, your brain might create pain to make you quickly remove your hand (and remember not to do it again!). The pain experience is part of the brain's decision-making process about what threatens us, and pain is nothing more than one of the body's many protection mechanisms. The brain is able to weigh up (in milliseconds) all information it receives about that injury, at that time and in that place. From all of this information, the brain decides if and when we are to feel pain.
Have you ever heard the shark attack survivor's stories about not feeling any pain at the time of the attack? This is because the brain perceives that drowning is a bigger threat to their survival (at that time and place) than the bite, so it delays the pain to allow the swim to shore. It is not until this drowning threat is removed that the extreme levels of pain from the injuries sustained may become noticeable. This is all a part of the body's 'flight or fight' protective systems that many of you would know about.
These types of amazing pain stories are also many in war-time tales when there is always the more immediate threat of death. Doesn't it make sense for the body in these scenarios to delay the pain response so that soldiers can remove themselves from the more pressing dangers such as incoming fire and death?
On the flip-side, there are occasions when the brain perceives a threat that isn't real and produces pain anyway. An example is phantom limb pain. This is where an amputee feels pain in an arm or leg that doesn't even exist!
Do these short examples start to make you think differently about pain?
Can you think of any other examples where pain felt by a person, or yourself, may not make sense with respect to the injury present?
Perhaps even more amazing, just knowing and accepting that the pain experience is produced by your brain will actually reduce your pain! We've found that the more you understand about how pain is produced, the better your brain becomes at assessing which threats are serious and which aren't...….and the less threat, the less pain produced!
Remember that understanding pain reduces pain.