Understanding the phenomenon we call pain

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Pain is a subjective phenomenon that we do not fully understand.

Stepping on a Lego block, tripping your toe on the edge of a door frame, or catching your toe in a drawer. No, they are not early sketch comedy. All those situations not only end in a lot of swearing, but also in a painful sensation that originates from the area of ​​the injury. The reaction occurs in an instant, before it slowly subsides. If we go beyond the feeling of discomfort, do you know why pain is essential for our survival?

Think back to those carefree childhood years. You probably tried skating or skateboarding. Both hurt a lot when you inevitably fall, smashing to the ground with a hard thud. During our teenage years, we are much more courageous. We have not learned to be afraid of the pain and injuries that sports like skateboarding can cause. Later in life, sometimes even the smallest bump is incredibly painful.

It’s not that the phenomenon of pain gets worse as we get older, but rather that pain creates a lasting memory that reminds us to avoid hurting ourselves again. What’s more, pain also prevents us from touching a broken bone or cut. So the body can heal and repair itself properly. Pain reminds us to stay away from dangerous situations, and it has helped the human race survive for millions of years. As disturbing as pain is, without it, things can go very wrong.

way to feel pain

Before we look at some of the diseases associated with pain, let’s start with how we feel pain. Painful sensations do not have a direct relationship with our brain. Instead, pain relies on several different neurons and nerve pathways to get from the source of the pain to our brain and vice versa. A neuron is a nerve cell responsible for transmitting a signal.

Using the dreaded Lego scenario as an example, when you step on a block, the nerve endings in the bottom of your foot detect the injury. These nerves are called nociceptors. This signal is transmitted through nerve fibers and picked up in the dorsal horn. The original message is then transferred to another set of neurons designed to travel to the brain through the spinal cord, before reaching the thalamus. The thalamus is part of the midbrain and is responsible for organizing these signals in a logical order.

Once organized, the signal reaches the sensory cortex (our emotional response to pain) where it is decoded and interpreted by the motor cortex (our physical reaction to pain).

The signal then travels back along the same path to the motor neurons in your foot. You start to jump grabbing your foot and cursing. Although there are almost a dozen stages in the “sensation of pain”, everything happens in less than a second.

You can probably see why there are various disturbances in the way we feel pain. It is enough that one of these links is damaged for the normal process to be obstructed.

Pain and CBD

Absence of pain: congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP)

Although the concept of not feeling any pain may seem appealing, especially in the case of the Lego block, CIP is extremely dangerous. Without any sensation of pain, injuries can be frequent. If you didn’t know you’ve broken a bone or contracted a serious infection, you’d carry on as usual. There is no such natural survival instinct to allow your body to heal itself.

People with CIP can feel when their arm is touched and, in most cases, slight changes in temperature. The pathology is the result of the malfunction of the nociceptor in the pain pathway. If you send an important letter, but it never arrives, the recipient won’t know what’s going on. The mutations in the cells prevent the transmission of pain signals from the site of injury to the brain.

Pain that does not hurt: asymmetrical pain

In pain asymbolia, it is not the nociceptor that is damaged, but the sensory cortex. His ability to decipher the pain signal and elicit a painful emotional trigger is nil. The physical reaction to pain is only one factor. Take a minute to think about the true emotional feeling of pain.

What happens if you cut your arm and feel that the skin is damaged, but the sensation is pleasant and not bothersome? The challenge for people living with painful asymbolia is not that they cannot feel pain, but that their brain does not recognize it as a negative sensation. Although we cannot change the intensity of pain, we can try to improve our emotional response to it. This is especially important for those who live with painful asymbolia; they need to learn that pain and the actions that cause it are to be avoided.

Examples of mind over matter are present throughout history. The Hindu fire-walking ceremony and Buddhist monks beating themselves repeatedly are good examples. Both disciplines share a conventional method of dealing with pain and meditation. By channeling our minds, we can try to lessen the impact of pain and our emotional response. In some cases, mindfulness meditation can reduce unpleasant pain by up to 57%.

Non-existent real pain: phantom limb pain (PLP)

Phantom limb pain occurs when there is a sensation of pain, even when a limb has been amputated. Although PLP is present in 50-80% of amputees, researchers are still not entirely sure how this phenomenon occurs. How to treat a painful sensation that technically does not exist? One of these methods is mirror therapy.

By visualizing the missing limb in front of a mirror and trying to hold it as if it were present, the idea is to acknowledge the sensation of pain, rather than ignore it. It’s almost like reassuring your body that you already know the limb is missing so that it stops warning you through the sensation of pain. Even when it doesn’t make logical sense, the pain is still real and needs treatment.

Living with pain: chronic pain

Pain and CBD

Chronic pain is the broad term for when you experience a prolonged period of pain. It can be the result of any part of the pain pathway becoming damaged or not working properly. Up to one in five European adults suffer from chronic pain, with two significant categories of pain.

Both nociceptive and neuropathic pain can be incredibly debilitating. They affect the patient’s mental health and her ability to perform daily tasks. Many of the people living with chronic pain do not respond to traditional pain medications and find it difficult to work full time. In these cases, self-treatment such as mindfulness meditation and lifestyle changes play an important role in managing chronic pain. Pain management is not a simple universal approach. The concept is much more complex.

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