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What is Pain?

Pain and inflammation are usually spoken about negatively, and are things everyone wants to get rid of. But why does the body actually experience pain and inflammation?

The body is an amazing and complex system. There are a lot of processes happening at the same time, that humans are not consciously aware of. In order to explain pain properly, we need to debunk a few myths.

Myth 1: There are no pain pathways in the body or brain

It is often thought that when people experience something painful (e.g. touching a hot plate) that a pain message is sent up through the spinal cord to the brain.

However, the body and brain are not processing a pain signal. It is processing a DANGER signal. A danger cell or receptor responds only to noxious stimuli (very high or low temperatures, strong pressures and certain chemical changes in the body’s cell) not pain. How your body and brain react to that danger signal depends on an array of factors such as:

  • Previous experiences
  • The current environment
  • A person’s beliefs and thoughts.

Have you ever wondered how during life-threatening or traumatic events; people may not have realised they hurt themselves until afterwards? For example, an athlete may have a broken bone on the sports field and feel no pain. A soldier may be severely injured during their mission and feel no pain.  This shows that pain is a complex whole-body experience and it doesn’t always correlate with tissue damage.

Myth 2. Pain only occurs when you are injured

Remember, special nerves in the body convey DANGER signals. There are no special pain receptors that send pain messages to the brain. If the body is continually receiving DANGER signals, then a person may experience pain regardless of whether an injury has actually occurred. Ways to reduce the threshold for DANGER in the body can include lifestyle factors such as:

  • Eating well
  • Exercising often
  • Having a good night’s sleep
  • Meditating
  • Socialising with a friend or family member.

Danger signals can also be dampened down by hands on physiotherapy techniques such as massage.

Myth 3. Inflammation is bad

Acute inflammation can occur after injuries such as an ankle sprain.  The ankle and foot often look red or swollen and it can be painful to touch or move. This immune/inflammatory process is completely normal and it actually aids recovery. There are special cells within the inflammatory fluid, called macrophages which come to eat and clean up any debris. This helps to make the injury site clean so new tissue can start to grow and heal. So next time you think acute inflammation is bad, just remember it’s your body’s way of healing itself!

The main take home message is that pain is not as simple as people think and it is unique to each individual!

If you have any questions or if you would like to chat about your pain experience with one of our trained physiotherapists please contact us on 4724 0768 or at We look forward to hearing from you!

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