Why Things Hurt?
Updated: Sep 16, 2019
Things hurt. Some more, some less. Yet we rarely stop to think, why do we sense pain and what does the pain mean for our body.
Pain comes in at least seven different types:
a) soreness or muscle ache,
b) burning or nerve impingement,
c) heat or cold-induced pain,
d) strong overwhelming pain from hits, e.g., to a knee or to an elbow,
e) toxin or inflammation-induced pain,
f) internal pressure pain, which we typically experience in connection with headache or abdominal constriction.
Our body has a particular type of neurons called nociceptors or pain receptors. These are fine body sensors that detect thermal, mechanical, and chemical changes that could pose a danger to our bodies. Nociceptors, in turn, have two sub-categories: those that send fast or slow stimuli to the central nervous system (CNS). That's why when you hit your knee, first there is a sharp pain that disappears quickly, followed by a prolonged numbing pain over much of the knee and surrounding tissues.
Pain has various functions: 1) to help avoid dangers; 2) to inform about uncomfortable posture or use of the body; 3) to notify about internal changes such as inflammation or blood pressure; 4) to inform about dehydration or lack of sufficient nutrition.
There is a brilliant TED talk by Lorimer Moseley, Why Things Hurt, that explains, how phantom pains develop over time from previous encounters with danger.
Often pain disappears with a layer of protection. Or concentrates in a smaller area with help of gentle palpation. That’s why we instinctively cover the affected site by a palm. Or ask someone to touch around the wound to see where exactly it hurts.
Our brain forbids us from poking around the hurting area. This is precisely the reason why on the way to a doctor one may feel as if the entire arm is on fire from pain. The doctor starts touching and confirming where exactly does it hurt. And as she does so, the pain fades and concentrates in a much smaller area or disappears altogether.
With posture induced pain, changing the position of torso, legs, or arms leads to pain dissolution. As little as extending your pinkies or toes can significantly reduce the pain intensity. This type of pain is usually due to nerve or fascia overstretching. Somewhere along the line, there is a knot in the fascia that keeps the entire system out of balance.
Local or general inflammation always increases overall pain sensing. That’s one of the reasons why we feel sore with the flu or while in fever. Most manual therapists refuse a visit by a patient with illness precisely because one cannot adequately locate the main issue until the fever is down. Local inflammation, on the other hand, can be effectively cleared and reduced with manual techniques.
Itching is a milder form of pain-sensing or nociception. Especially if it comes from an unidentified source, something other than a bite, healing wound or an allergic reaction.
Persistent itching is a sign of two things: I) there is a tension in the spot of itching or immediate surroundings; II) there is a more significant source of pain in the body that overshadows the development of full pain reflex in the itching place. Usual suspects for such substantial pain would be a) gums and teeth, even the removed ones; b) impingement close to the neck, back or coccyx vertebrae; or c) tension in thoracic diaphragm.
One can temporarily address all of the pain sources mentioned above with nerve flossing and yoga therapy. Or locate with neuro kinetic therapy (NKT) protocols and permanently resolve by consistent self-care.
Cover photo credit: Association for Psychological Science