Pain in the Brain

By: Partiba Jassal MPT


Most people will experience pain at some point in their life. And you have probably heard something along the lines of ‘the pain is in your brain.’ What does that saying really mean? Let’s understand pain a little bit better…

How does the pain process occur?

Our nervous system has millions of sensors throughout our body. It is constantly telling our brain about the changes that occur in our body tissues. One part of our nervous system is able to detect ‘danger’ to our body tissues, warning the brain about the amount, location, and extent of danger. The brain almost always responds to this information without us ever having to think about it consciously and decides if it we experience pain or not.

If you have pain, can movement make the pain worse?

Whether you’ve strained a muscle, sprained a ligament, broken a bone, or damaged a nerve, the correct movement patterns will always be beneficial in minimizing your pain. Here are a few reasons why movement can help:

  • A lack of movement leads to a build up of fluid in your muscles and joints, and this build up can cause or increase your sensations of pain
  • Bones are living and healing structures which benefit from movement and regular compression through activity
  • There are hundreds of meters of peripheral nerves in your body and these slide as you move; injury or diseases which alter this movement cause result in pain

An interesting fact is that changes that appear on X-ray and other imaging reports do not always necessarily correlate to pain. Why is this? As we age, normal changes occur within our body structures, and this is usually a painless process. However, when pathology is introduced the brain’s danger alarm system becomes alerted, and we then experience pain as result. This pain is our signal to seek help and fix the problem.

How can physiotherapy help me with my pain?

Whether you have acute pain or chronic pain, understanding and becoming educated on your pain will help you to manage it better. You can learn to minimize your pain by understanding the injury, the healing process, correct movement patterns, and the do’s and don’ts. This is where physiotherapists can help, because they are trained professionals with the ability to guide you through pain management techniques.

Butler, David S, and G L. Moseley. Explain Pain. Adelaide: Noigroup Publications, 2003. Print.

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