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Why Your Brain Tells You About Pain

When dealing with pain, we need to understand why we experience it, and doing that helps us understand what causes pain so that we may overcome it.

Pain is a personal experience, and everyone experiences pain.

This is what makes pain such a unique phenomenon, and why different methods work better for different people.

By continuing to develop our understanding of pain, we have more options of treatment. This give us more tools to use as we customize each persons approach to overcoming pain.

One of the best ways we know to improve pain scores across all populations is education. By providing pain education we can reduce pain, improve knowledge of pain, improve function, lower disability, reduce psychosocial factors, enhance movement, and minimize health care use. Don't believe me? Check with the experts.

To me it seems obvious that getting the word out about pain is worth my time and my words. Leveling up my clients knowledge has always been part of my practice. This empowers each client, and gives them ownership over how they feel, and what they can do to help or hurt that.

Last month, we presented a real life scenario of an elite dancer who was struggling with pain for several years. After learning about how her pain system worked, and how she experienced pain because she felt threatened, she immediately had a reduction of pain and was able to do more activity without pain. If you want to read it yourself, it's called Calming Overactive Pain Receptors: How to Start Feeling Better Today.

We are building on that understanding, and this time we will use a fictional scenario, but it will be easy apply this to daily life. Here's the story:

If you were walking down the street, and you stepped off the curb and sprained your ankle, would that hurt?

Of course it would! Ankle sprains hurt. Nobody likes that.

Now, what if you stepped off the curb, sprained your ankle, and saw a speeding bus heading right for you. Would your ankle sprain hurt?

Of course not! You'd jump out of the way of that speeding bus.

After you get back on the safe sidewalk, and the bus passes, your ankle sprain may start to hurt.

Why is it that when you sprained your ankle it didn't hurt, but now that you are sitting on the sidewalk, it is hurting?

It's because your brain and your nervous system determined that the speeding bus was more of a threat than the ankle sprain. If you had ankle pain when the bus was coming toward you, you may not have got out of the way, and if you got hit by the bus, well, your brain knows that's worse than an ankle sprain.

Pain threats, ankle sprain
Which is more threatening? An ankle sprain, or a speeding bus?

Your ankle sprain told your brain about danger, not about pain. If your brain decided that your ankle sprain was threatening, then you would have experienced pain. Instead, by choosing to not produce pain in your ankle, your brain protected you from the bigger threat, the speeding bus.

After the bus is gone, and you're no longer in danger of getting hit by it, your ankle sprain is now painful. That is telling you to seek help. It's now the bigger threat since there is no speeding bus.

Can you see how your brain determined pain regardless of actual damage?

The ankle sprain probably caused some tissue damage, and the bus didn't actually damage you at all. It was the perception of danger that determined what is painful.

The more dangerous or threatening the event is, the higher the priority to produce or suppress pain.

Having pain does not have to do with tissue damage. It's strictly based on perceived threat or danger.

Here's another scenario of having tissue damage, but not having pain.

Have you ever noticed a bruise on your body that you didn't know where it came from?

This is normally in a lifetime, and we've all had this happen.

Bruising is actual tissue damage, so we know there was an injury, but why didn't your brain tell you about this sooner? Why can't you even remember how it happened?

Bruising, pain, threat
How did that get there?

In this case, your brain did receive a danger message when it happened, but it decided not to produce pain. You were busy doing something else and experiencing pain would have stopped you from doing that. Your brain was busy with doing work, competing in your sport, playing with your kids, or navigating trails.

Whatever you were doing, it was more important than knowing about the tissue damage at that time.

Now that you see the bruise, it does kind of hurt. Looking at it reminds your brain about it, and because your nervous system works, you now feel pain to remind you to do something about it. Even though that a few minutes ago you had the same damaged tissue without pain. This tells us something very different from what we've previously thought about pain.

You can have an injury without pain, and you can have pain without an injury.

Pain comes from your brain. Not from an injury. Not from damaged tissues. Not even from bruising and swelling.

This gives us another layer of understanding why we feel pain. It's a change from what we we've been taught throughout our lives.

Not understanding pain, has led to more pain.

As we continue to understand pain better, we are able to develop more strategies. We are able to give you more to work on, more to process, and more to think about. The more you know, the more power you have over your pain. #snowbeastperformance

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