Friday, May 13, 2011

The Problem of Pain

An estimated 50 million Americans live with chronic pain; low back pain is one of the most common types of chronic pain, along with migraine or severe headache and joint pain. Another 25 million experience acute pain related to surgery or trauma. That means 25% of the people in this country are in some type of pain.

I have found that pain is really a fascinating subject to study. Your body is filled with an elaborate network of nerve receptors called nociceptors that transmit pain signals to your your spinal chord, then on to your brain. As soon as that message reaches your brain, you feel pain. These free nerve endings are woven throughout all the tissues of the body except the brain (they are especially numerous in the skin and muscles. Pain occurs when the tissue containing nociceptors is subject to a noxious insult.

SO WHAT!!!??? "What does that mean to me?" you ask. Well, if you can keep the message of pain from ever reaching your brain, guess what? You won't feel it! This principle has great application to women who experience painful menstrual cycles. I've mentioned this in one of my past posts, but it's worth repeating.

Upon feeling your very first sign or symptom of cramping, take 800 mg of ibuprofen as fast as you can. This will do many people wonders! Here's what's happening: upon menstruation, a surge of oxytocin is released which causes the uterus to contract, and it can be VERY painful for some women. The reason why it's painful are because of these little pain messengers called prostaglandins. They "deliver" the message of pain to your nervous system, and that is when you perceive the pain. Here's a parable: if you could take out the mail man before he delivers the dear john to you, you would never feel the pain of reading a dear john! That's what the ibuprofen is doing, it's taking out the messenger of pain before it gets to the nervous system. It does it by inhibiting prostaglandin synthesis. Just a little magic trick you need to try if you think you would benefit.

Here's another interesting things about pain: our brains can only handle so much input at a given time. If a child is getting a shot at the doctors office, and you talk to the child on the opposite side of them that the shot is going to be given in, you might hear them say, "I hardly felt that!" That's because half or more of their attention was pulled away from the shot and given to the converser. This theory can be used for all sorts of situations, just use your brain to think of some (and don't let anyone distract you :)


  • Age influences a person's perception and expression of pain
  • Pain tolerance decreases with aging
  • Women have a lower pain threshold and experience higher intensity of pain than men
  • Approximately 15% of adults (most between age 18 and 44) experience recurrent migraine or severe headaches.
  • Pain is common among older adults, with 20% reporting pain lasting more than 24 hours within the past month


indecisiveathlete said...

That is very interesting about pain. I never knew that that is how ibuprofen worked but it def makes a lot of sense I guess I just assumed it did its job and never realized exactly what it did. How is pain tolerance played in with all that? I know everyone has different levels of pain tolerance but how is that determined?

Devin said...

They have found that generally people who experience frequent painful procedures (multiple surgeries, etc..) have a lower tolerance for pain. They did a study on newborns that were undergoing different types of medical procedures and they found that the newborns that they medicated and treated for pain maintained a higher pain tolerance later on in their lives than the newborns that were not treated for pain. This suggests that our nociceptors and nerve fibers are "programmed" from birth on how sensitive they will be to pain. Also, like I said in the article, women naturally have a lower pain tolerance than men do. In looking at a PET scan of women's brains', they could see that pain triggers many of the emotional centers in the brain that are not triggered in men. Pretty interesting...

indecisiveathlete said...

Oh wow that is very interesting about the newborns and pretty cool. And that makes sense about the difference between women and men

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