Does Pain Always = Damage? Understanding Pain
From the earliest points that we can remember, we know that pain = bad. Pain is not fun (for most people) and changes how we go about doing simple things in our everyday lives. However, pain is also a necessary tool we have to help keep us alive. Pain is often a sign of many serious conditions such as infections, heart attacks and/or cancer. Pain is also a sign that maybe you shouldn’t have been looking down at your phone, scrolling Facebook Marketplace for 3 hours straight just to find that perfect pair of side tables for a great price.
Disclaimer: I love Facebook Marketplace and recommend it for bargain shoppers
So if pain is a sign of serious problems but also a sign of very minor problems, why does our body make simple issues feel so bad sometimes? And how do we know the difference?
Pain was developed to let us know that something is wrong in our bodies. It works similar to your check engine light and the sensors connected to the light in your car. If something is wrong in your car, the sensors send signals that something is wrong and the light comes on. Same thing in our body, nerves send signals to your brain that something is wrong and your brain turns on that check engine light (aka pain) so that you get it taken care of.
Why does our body make simple issues feel so bad sometimes?
The problem is that many cars turn on the check engine light for no good reason other than “mixed signals.” The same thing can happen with your nervous system. You may experience a minor trauma or movement and because of mixed signals your brain decides this is dangerous and flips on the pain switch. For example, if you bend forward and suddenly your low back spasms and starts hurting, it could be that your nervous system noticed some muscles got stretched and decided this was bad so it needed to tighten (spasm) those muscles to protect you from that “dangerous” movement. It this instance it doesn’t mean something is damaged, just that the brain got some mixed signals.
How do we know the difference between major and minor causes of pain?
The simplest answers are experience and context. People roll their ankles constantly and will have little to no pain because they've experienced this before and know there’s no real danger. But if you have some new kind of pain you’ve never felt before, it may be much more painful because you don’t know what this pain is. While your pain may not be something serious, the only way to know for sure is to have it evaluated by a professional (not google). Most of the time they can give you an answer as to what’s causing your pain and what you can do about it. And the times that they can’t they can at least get you to someone who can. If you're still interested in learning about pain at the bottom of the page is a link for a great video that explains how we perceive pain and what it all means.
-Dr. Nick Dugger, DC