Why We Feel Pain and Why We Shouldn’t Ignore It.
(ThyBlackMan.com) No one likes to be in pain. Pain is almost universally viewed as something negative — why else would we call an unpleasant person or task a pain in the neck (or other body part)?
But as much as pain can be unpleasant or disruptive, it does serve a very important purpose. The type of pain you feel (acute or chronic) as well as your tolerance for pain are all part of your body’s warning system, and ignoring pain could have serious consequences for your heath.
Pain = Pay Attention
When someone is having a heart attack, one might clutch his or her chest in pain. However, severe, sudden, and debilitating chest pain is actually rare in heart attacks. Usually, chest pain begins well before the actual cardiac event. And in many cases, the pain is milder than one might expect and mistaken for other conditions, like heartburn. It’s only when symptoms escalate, and the pain becomes more severe, that heart attack patients call for help.
So what does all of this have to do with why we feel pain? In short, pain is the body’s way of alerting you to a problem, or getting you to stop doing something that is causing harm. In the case of heart disease, even minor chest pain should send you right to the doctor’s office for treatment to help avoid a more significant problem. In the case of minor injuries — you stub your toe on a table leg, for example — the pain is your body’s way of telling you that you have injured yourself, and to stop what you are doing and do something different.
Doctors look at pain the same way that mechanics look at the warning lights on a car’s dashboard. Since not all injuries or illnesses are outwardly obvious, pain serves as an indicator. For example, you can fracture a bone and still use that limb, but doing so will cause more damage, just as continuing to drive when your fuel light comes on will probably leave you stranded on the side of the road. Instead, you stop for gas — and the pain in your arm or leg means you should see a doctor and get an X-ray and a cast.
A Diagnostic Tool
While the primary purpose of pain is to alert you to a potential problem, it’s also useful as a diagnostic tool. By assessing the location, severity, duration, and location of the pain, as well as the efficacy of any relief measures, doctors have a starting point for making a diagnosis and developing a treatment plan. However, because pain is subjective and different for everyone, it’s usually only a starting point.
Further complicating matters is that there is a difference between acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain is the temporary pain that you feel after an injury or a minor illness — the stubbed toe, for instance. Once the injury heals, no further treatment is necessary and the pain goes away. Chronic pain is more challenging to diagnose and treat, and often requires the services of a pain diagnostic and treatment center to determine the source of the pain and the most effective treatment plan.
This is challenging because chronic pain can actually cause changes in the nervous system and the way that we experience pain. The experience of pain is actually due to the release of certain chemicals in the brain; those chemicals are transmitted from the site of the pain to the brain, where they are interpreted as “pain.” When pain is acute, that message generally travels quickly up the spine, so when you stub your toe, you immediately shout, “Ouch!” Chronic pain, on the other hand, means that those messages are constantly being sent up the spine. This has the effect of actually making one more sensitive to pain, because those receptors are always on. Therefore, a minor injury that might cause momentary discomfort in most people can be debilitating to someone with chronic pain. For that reason, it’s very important to diagnose the cause of chronic pain and reduce it as much as possible.
While pain is designed to be an indicator of a health problem that needs attention, there are times when the brain “blocks” pain as a defense mechanism. In times of extreme stress or danger, for example, the brain is able to minimize pain signals until you have reached safety. There have been cases in which the victims of fire or accidents, for example, have completed heroic acts while severely injured, and did not notice their own injuries until much later.
Pain can be a serious medical issue, but it also serves an important purpose in protecting your overall health. So the next time you’re experiencing aches and pains, don’t dismiss them out of hand — your body might be trying to tell you something important.
Staff Writer; Bobby Raymond