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Myth Busting 9: More than a feeling

· 3 min read

Part of the "Myth Busting" series

In this myth busting blog today, I really only have one short point to make. In previous weeks we've seen how pain is not an input from the body. There are no pain signal, pain nerves or pain pathways. We've seen that pain is actually an output from the brain. We've seen that it is a combination of biological, psychological and social factors. We've learned that the brain takes into account sensations from the body, inputs from stress hormones, clues from your environment and beliefs about your body. And creates the experience of pain.

And building on that information today I just want to make a single point. That pain is an experience not a sensation.

And because of this, the experience of pain can have many effects on many areas of our lives. Pain has biological, psychological and social inputs, but it also has all of those outputs, too.

Pain can affect our biology#

When we have pain in a part of our body, it changes its biology. Our protective reflexes will kick in to protect us from any potential or actual threat. This will include heightened sensitivity and vigilance to that area, muscle "guarding" or tensing, a perception of stiffness so that we automatically move it less, and decreased tolerance to stretch or touch or both. We may start compensating, biomechanically, in other parts of our bodies.

Pain can affect us psychologically#

We know that a brain which is creating the experience of pain long-term gets really good at it. Like an orchestra playing the same tune over and over again, eventually it needs very little input from the conductor and forgets how to play a lot of other tunes. The brain in pain is like a stuck record. This is because when nerves fire together repeatedly, they get in the habit of setting each other off. The term often used for this is neurobiology is "nerves that fire together, wire together". This means if you fire two (or more) nerves together repeatedly for long enough, then it becomes harder and harder to just fire one in isolation. They have, in effect, become wired together. Being in pain for a prolonged period of time is linked to depression, anxiety and poor sleep, amongst other things.

And pain can affect us socially#

We would love to attend a family wedding, but we don't know if we can manage the car journey. We can't go to work because we can't spend all day on our feet. And we just don't have the mental energy to keep up with our friends' conversations when we're in pain.

And whilst each of these things is an output (a result) of the experience of pain they will also feed into the experience of pain. They become new inputs which can make the experience of pain better or worse.

So far from pain being a single sensation, it can actually have a profound effect on many different areas of our lives.

See other posts in the "Myth Busting" series