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    How pain works: 3 things to know

    How Pain Works: 3 Things You Should Know

    We all experience pain at some point, and whether you have an aching back, cramping muscles or a stiff neck, it can be unpleasant. The upside is that pain plays an important role as part of the body’s defence system – it’s your body’s way of alerting you to injury and encouraging protection from further damage.

    Despite its protective role, pain can be disruptive – as well as impacting on everyday activities it can also affect your sleep. Understanding how pain works may help you find effective ways to manage and relieve your pain.

    Here are three key things to know about pain.


    In this guide

    1. It’s personal

    Although everyone experiences pain, each person has their own personal threshold – what may be quite painful for one person may be tolerable for someone else. Why do we feel pain differently? Genetics, expectations, and emotional state can all affect how your brain interprets pain signals from your body.

    As pain is such a personal experience, specific ways of managing it may not work for everyone, so it is important to find the most appropriate pain relief that may work for you.

    2. It has a mind component

    How you feel pain can be affected by your emotions – if you’re anxious or feeling low, you’re more likely to be sensitive to pain.

    On the flip side, your emotional state can also help with pain relief. Strong emotions such as excitement or fear can temporarily distract people from feeling pain. Meditation may also help – a deep state of relaxation can sometimes ease pain by refocusing your thoughts and lessening your perception of pain.

    3. There are different types of pain

    Two main types of pain include tissue pain and nerve pain.

    Tissue (or nociceptive) pain occurs when the body’s tissues are damaged. For example, when you cut yourself or sprain your ankle, chemicals known as prostaglandins are released from the damaged tissues and they trigger a chain of events resulting in inflammation. The signs of inflammation – heat, pain, redness and swelling – alert your body to repair the damaged tissues. Prostaglandins also make the nerve endings in the tissue (nociceptors) more sensitive to pain, which is why tissue pain hurts. If your pain is caused by inflammation, you could help relieve the source of the pain by using an over-the-counter analgesic designed to reduce inflammation.

    Another type of pain is nerve (or neuropathic) pain. Nerves are the body’s electric wiring – they constantly send messages, including pain signals, between the brain and the rest of the body. Damage to nerves can change how these pain signals are sent and may result in pain described with words such as burning, shooting, numbing and pins and needles.

    Important information

    This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health-related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.

    In this guide