Going through the healthcare education system we often incorrectly get taught about the “pain pathways” when learning about the intricacies of our nervous system. However put simply our nervous system comprises of inputs and outputs connected by a master control centre. Our inputs come from mechanical pressure, temperature or chemical sensitivity. These inputs stimulate the nerves in the area that send a signal to the master control centre …. the brain!
It is really the brain that determines what these signals mean. This perception is based on previous experiences and emotions which help to identify if the signal indicates danger. Only signals that are perceived to be a threat will create the sensation of pain. So what does this mean?
It means that our mind – our beliefs, experiences and attitudes – has a large impact on the way in which we react. People often discuss the “power” of the mind as it has the ability to change our physical structure and function. Thoughts can have such a profound effect on such a microscopic level by influencing the development of our cells.
Realising that pain is a perception also helps us to understand why there are variations in pain thresholds between individuals. What may seem to be excruciating pain to one person, may only be described as discomfort to another.
Most importantly, understanding pain perception helps us to regain control over pain. In many situations pain is there to protect us, by stopping us from doing further damage to an injured area of the body. However in some situations pain can become chronic and debilitating and take over people’s lives. Changing our beliefs about pain can assist in reducing this pain and allow us to live happy and healthy lives.