How Does Pain Work, Anyway?
By Beth Maddox
Why is it that after sustaining an injury, sometimes the pain is immediate and sometimes the pain onset is latent, weeks or even years after the event? The short answer is that pain isn’t pain until the brain says it is! The transmission of pain signals is different than other sensory input to the brain, making the awareness of pain different than that of any other sensation.
When the brain receives a stimulus of sight, sound, scent, touch or pressure, the brain immediately recognizes these pieces of information as what they are. However, pain is recognized by the brain on a threshold system. The brain won’t recognize the information as pain unless the impulse surpasses a certain level. This can happen with one large signal, resulting in an immediate experience of pain. Often, though, it takes an accumulation of signals over time to generate enough total pain impulses to the brain to exceed the level needed to be seen as pain. A person will not feel this pain until days, weeks, months, or even years later.
In the case when the pain is realized immediately, the connection between injured tissue and pain is made easily and the treatment is very straightforward, but consider the following illustration of the complexities of latent onset pain. Susan has a side-impact car accident in which she strains her right neck muscles, but has no pain. Three months later she unknowingly starts slightly bending her neck to the right to relieve the strained right neck muscles. Five months after this, she starts subconsciously bending her back to the left to compensate for the right neck side-bend. Over the years, Susan changes her sitting posture at her work desk to a more hunched position, because it seems to alleviate the other curves in her neck and back. A decade later, she tells her massage therapist “it just came back out of the blue.”
It takes a thorough exploration of this patient’s history to unravel this accumulation of pain to its point of crossing the threshold 10 years later. Every piece of this chain must be addressed to get rid of the lower back pain, to keep it from recurring, and to prevent the onset of pain in any of the other links, such as rib pain or headache. It is essential that your pain-relief health professional can identify and treat all the links in the chain. Only then can the chains of pain be broken.
To schedule an appointment, or if you have any further questions about any type of leg or body pain, contact Precision Massage.
Beth Maddox, Owner/Lead Therapist