I’ll let that concept sink in a little….
By that I mean that pain is not a thing, it cannot be touched, bottled, nor thrown at a divorcee (though who doesn’t want to do that).
In fact, pain is an electromagnetic signal that is picked up an interpreted by the brain.
Beware, scientific information will follow.
The sensors that pick up the pain, lay close to the skins surface, and are called nociceptors, (derived from the world, noxious, meaning harmful).
Interestingly, if we do touch something that is hot or painful, our muscles will actually draw our body away from the tissue damage before we feel it.
In fact, what’s even weirder is that pain is only experienced within the brain, this is how amputees experience phantom limb pain.
Despite pain not being a real thing, it follows a real path, from the nociceptor, to the nerve fibre, through to the spinal collum, through to the brain stem, then on to the thalamus, and forebrain, namely the cortex within the parietal lobe.
This is the also part of the brain responsible for thoughts, emotions and memories. Cool huh?
Here’s is a question for you, why does rubbing something that you have hurt, seem to make it feel better?
Funny enough, there is a scientific term for this. It is called ‘competitive inhibition’.
In the 60’s, two famous scientists, Professor Ronald Melzack and Professor Patrick Wall, discovered an action that they coined ‘gating’. The idea was that this nerve gate could be opened or closed by other signals going up and down, to and from the brain.
If you could cause a distraction of attention or convince yourself that you are not distressed about the pain, then you wont feel it as much.
In other words when you rub the site of your pain, you are sending alternative signals (from the same area) in larger quantities, toward the brain. These signals then compete with your pain signals, but because there are more of them, they lessen how much pain gets paid attention to.
When we use the law of ‘competitive inhibition’ in this way, we can trick ourselves to feel something different. While we are sad or depressed, it can momentarily lessen the emotion experienced, this is why people rely on alcohol, drugs, cutting, etc.
The competing signals take the edge off the initial pain but can, and usually do become addictive habits.
These are not healthy alternatives, this is merely why they “work”.Even when the pain signals have reached the brain stem, they are still merely nerve signals, and are not the pain that you would actually end up feeling. There are other areas of the brain that are needed to first interpret these signals and then influence what you end up feeling.
Emotional pain is even harder to qualify; the cause and effect are dependent on the mental state of the subject, yet the same rules apply.
You can also affect this with your own conscious interpretation of how painful you think something is. This allows you to do painful things to yourself with less effect because your bodies natural action of discounting your own movements and actions. This is a process called forward modelling; it works in the same way as why you can’t tickle yourself.
With all this said, pain is still a necessary part of our anatomical design. Clinical studies have concluded that there is definitely a danger in feeling no pain. There were studies of people with congenital pain insensitivity where the sufferers, (if you can call them that), would receive severe cuts, burns etc, because their bodies had not warned them of the danger.
I have learned over the years to make pain my friend (better the devil you know right?).
Next week I’ll share some of the hows with you…
(Part 2 next week)