The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage.”
This means pain is an uncomfortable feeling that tells you something may be wrong in a part of your body. It’s the result of a message from special nerves (called nociceptors). When they find damaged tissue in your body, the send information about the damage along your spinal cord to your brain.
For example, if you touch a hot surface, your body causes an instant reflex that pulls your hand away before you do any more damage. But even if you’ve pulled your hand away, the nociceptor nerves still send a message to your brain that some tissue has been damaged. Once that message gets to your brain, you start to feel an unpleasant sensation – pain. This means you can then do something about, in the case, the burn.
This is a complex system and it works well for acute pain. Sometimes this system can go wrong. The messages get confused and your brain can’t understand the signals properly.
This can lead to chronic or persistent pain, which can be very hard to repair. Unfortunately, you can’t just re-boot the system when it goes wrong, the way you can with a computer system.
So while pain has a helpful role to play, it can also have negative effects on your functioning and social and psychological wellbeing.
Video: Pain Explained by Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust
This video may take a few moments to load.
(Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust, UK, 2012)