5 Facts About the Pain You Probably Didn't Know
A sensation of pain is not always preceded by physical impact. People feel pain not only when falling onto the asphalt from a bicycle but also after a betrayal or loss of a loved one. There is little pleasure in it but the pain is an important evolutionary mechanism that protects us from injuries, fixing the experience in our memory as a negative one.
The extreme subjectivity of pain complicates research but existing work on the topic is enough to get answers to the most common questions, understand how pain sensitivity works, and what scientists say about it all.
1. Why Does Pain Occur?
Pain is controlled by the nervous system, which consists of the central and peripheral parts. Pain receptors nociceptors help the brain know that we are interacting with something potentially dangerous. They are activated every time the tissues are sufficiently compressed. Therefore, pain occurs if you hit your hand against the table but don’t occur if you hit the pillow with the same fist.
A reaction to danger can be an instant urge to move away from it, as to pull your hand away from the hot and this is how reflexes work. If a person has managed to get burned, the pain will continue. When a signal reaches the brain, it travels to several different areas in its cortex for interpretation.
Those parts of the brain determine where the pain came from, whether it is similar to a previous experience, and what kind of pain it is. Then the limbic system forms its own response, which is why one type of pain makes us cry, another makes us angry, and a third makes us sweat.
2. Why the Topic of Chronic Pain Is so Popular?
Pain that lasts at least 12 weeks is considered chronic pain. Unlike acute pain, it does not occur as a response to a threat to survival and generally has no useful purpose. More than one and a half billion people all over the world experience some form of chronic pain. Women, smokers, and people who are overweight are all at increased risk of developing chronic pain.
As for treatment, scientists are still trying to find new alternatives to opioids, which over time can cause addiction. There are advances in this matter and a good potential is demonstrated by the effect on certain parts of the brain by using electrodes and Botox injections. Such methods are already being used for chronic back pain treatment. The problem is that this method seems to be effective only for people with a certain brain structure.
3. Phantom Pain
Patients after limb amputation often report that they continue to feel a lost arm or leg. They not only feel its presence but are faced with pain that interferes with normal life. Scientists believe that this is due to the non-adaptive plasticity of the brain, a situation where changes in the brain lead to a negative result which is a kind of program error in the body.
For a long time, there were no effective ways to deal with phantom pains and patients were mainly recommended cognitive-behavioral therapy. In 2018, the Swedish professor Max Ortiz Katalan proposed the use of virtual reality glasses to alleviate the symptoms. As a basis, he takes the hypothesis that pains in the amputated limb can provoke left-over neurons that turn on randomly.
4. Why a Broken Heart Really Hurts?
Visualization of the brain shows that when we look at photographs of our ex-lovers who were the initiators of the break, the same parts of the brain that work when we feel physical pain are activated. This applies not only to romantic relationships but also to the loss of a friend or even a colleague.
Perhaps the human evolutionary need for social connections has led to the fact that the brain does not always see the difference between physical and emotional pain. This is also confirmed by the fact that people who in an experiment took paracetamol for several weeks reported less daily “social pain”.
5. Strange Ways to Deal With Pain
Experiments show that not only pain killers can help us cope with minor pain. Ginger and turmeric may also be effective. When applied locally, plasters and gels with capsaicin, the main component of red pepper, can help.
The children's habit of holding their mom's hand when the doctor takes a blood test or gives an injection has a completely scientific basis. Due to the synchronization of heart rhythms and respiratory rate, the pain actually becomes weaker. This alternative anesthesia option is less dubious than beer, which according to some researchers may work better than paracetamol.
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