• Lucy Adie, Osteopath

OsteoBlog: Simple Pain

Pain is a protective output of the brain, alerting us to tissue damage and changing our behaviour to prevent further damage and remove ourselves from danger.

Pain can be an incredibly powerful all consuming entity, and yet the brain can turn it on and off at will.

If the brain makes the decision that your survival is in jeopardy, then you will not feel pain as it is switched off so we can deal with the threat unimpeded.

Pain is not an accurate measure of tissue damage and the brain can keep sending out pain signals even when there is no more tissue damage - which is irritating!

The detection, transmission and processing of stimuli from our bodies danger receptor nerves (or nociceptors), is called nociception. These nerves have a high excitatory threshold - otherwise everything would hurt.

Nociceptors are in all tissues except the brain itself, and they respond to changes in chemical, thermal or mechanical stimuli. The brain can inhibit and facilitate nociceptors and the more active these receptors are, the better they get at it - this causes hypersensitivity or allodynia - which is an abnormal pain response to the lightest of stimuli. In these cases - usually of chronic pain sufferers - it does not take much to set off a pain response disproportionate to tissue damage or threat.

Proof that pain exists only in the brain and not our bodies, can be found in cases such as referred pain or phantom limb pain.

In referred pain, location of nociception is misread eg - left arm pain during a heart attack or leg pain from a prolapsed disc in the spine.

When a limb is amputated, patients can often suffer with horrendous pain which is perceived to be originating from the limb.

We have a map of our bodies imprinted in our brains that remains active even after a body part has been removed.

The action of nociceptors sending impulses to our brains via the spinal cord, does not always end in the feeling of pain. The brain will activate several systems that will work together to get you out of danger.

Pain can be processed very differently across genders, ages and cultures. Our perception can be heavily influenced by emotion and environment and perhaps by how much is at stake for the injured person.

Understanding your pain and its causes can play an important part in your recovery. Keep a positive attitude and try to continue your daily activities, setting tasks and goals to keep the brain occupied and distracted.

Osteopaths are rather good at dealing with patients in pain. We can help you to get better, and understand where your pain is coming from.


Brukner,P & Khan.K. (2014) Clinical Sports Medicine (4th Ed) McGraw-Hill; Australia.

Butler, D.S. & Moseley G.L. (2003) Explain Pain. Noigroup Publications; Adelaide.

For Osteopathy in High Wycombe and beyond call Lucy or Ebony from Osteofusion now. 07833 321604 or email

Thanks for reading.

#pain #nociception #nociceptors #phantomlimbpain



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