You have just stubbed your toe on the corner of the bed and proceed to expel profanities at the pain. After calming down and taking a few deep breathes, do you ever wonder why we experience pain so quickly?
While pain is a complicated topic, and the way we experience pain is dictated by a multitude of factors, acute pain in its essence, is dictated by a single common pathway.
The physiology of acute pain:
The original sensory input (corner of the bed) triggers chemical mediators to be released from the damaged tissue (your big toe), which in turn stimulates an impulse from the local peripheral nerves (the nerves outside of your brain and spinal cord).
These impulses move up the nerve’s pathway, into the spinal cord, where the impulses can either be exaggerated, or reduced, by subsequent inputs.
Representation of the injured area, and its level of pain, can then be altered by, not only the brain, but also the nervous system at the spinal cord level (think the reflex response to pain, for example, when you place your hand on something hot, then quickly remove it - the reflex occurs before the brain has completely taken in the event).
Additionally, pain can also be influenced (exacerbated or otherwise) by such things as anxiety, fear and past experience.
Image credit: https://www.britannica.com/science/knee-jerk-reflex
After you have hurt your toe, there will be some tissue damage, which will lead to an acute inflammatory response.
Firstly, an increase in blood supply to the area will occur, which will cause the area to become red and warm. With the increase in blood flow, inflammatory mediators will flood the area, leading to swelling. The increase in swelling, along with aggravation of the nerves by inflammatory mediators, lead to a pain response.
Image credit: https://www.trinityhealth.org/services/pain/
What to do:
While pain is inevitable, there are some easy things you can do at home to help relieve your symptoms as well as reducing the length of time you are in pain.
Ice – to help in the reduction of inflammation.
Anti-inflammatories – the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID’s) will also help reduce inflammation.
Movement – gentle mobility within your pain-free range of motion, will help with the removal of inflammatory mediators, stimulate the lymphatic system, as well as help get normal function and mobility back into the injured area.
Life Hack For (minor) Pain:
Pain can have serious consequences, however, for minor pain, like a stubbed toe, the following hacks can be helpful. 'Shake it off' and 'kiss it better'; is advice we have all heard before, but did you know that there is some truth behind these common sayings?
Image credit: https://www.gotceleb.com/taylor-swift-shake-it-off-music-video-2014-08-19.html/taylor-swift-shake-it-off-music-video-stills-12 The movement from the shake or sensation from the kiss, act as a 'mechanical stimulus'. This mechanical stimulus can interrupt the pain signal, altering our interpretation of the pain.
The movement also acts as a distraction, taking focus away from the pain.
Please note, this effect is limited to smaller injuries. If in serious pain, opt for medical attention.
While this is a short overview of why we experience pain and some of the physiological steps that occur when we hurt ourselves, the topic of pain is complicated and is never dictated by one factor. If you would like to know more about pain, either chronic or acute contact us at Retrain Health on (02) 6680 7447 or go online at www.retrainhealth.com
Retrain Health is based in the Northern Rivers, NSW. From our Byron Bay and Ballina clinics, our team provides a range of quality healthcare services and products.
Retrain Health offers osteopathy, remedial massage, strength and conditioning, and PT sessions, with qualified practitioners.
If you are interested in finding out more information or would like to book an appointment, please contact the clinic by phone (02) 6680 7447, send us an email or click here to book an appointment online.