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The nervous system and its response to pain
Our nervous system consists of the brain, spinal chord and a complex network of nerves which allow us to send signals to and from other cells, glands and muscles all over our body.
The body receives and interprets input from our environment through various receptors before it responds in a way to ensure survival. Signals are constantly competing with each other creating an ever changing chemical cocktail. The nervous system receptors connect to your brain to form your senses such as taste, hearing, vision, smell and touch.
These receptors have no ability to ‘feel’ they merely send signals to the brain which interprets them. Therefore when you feel something hot the feeling of heat is not in your hand, it’s in your brain. This is an important factor when we consider the effects of long-term pain perception.
Receptors send billions of impulses per second to our central nervous system (brain and spinal chord) and they are interpreted as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. The body reacts to pleasure with reward chemicals which make us feel content, relaxed, happy and excited.
Unpleasant signals like pain cause a release of stress chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol which signal danger and make us feel anxious. This is how we have evolved as a survival strategy and is designed to be a short-term reaction. High levels of sustained anxiety are intolerable and very dangerous to anyone regardless of how well you think you cope with difficult situations.
Consider a time when you had a heated argument with a loved one or colleague and felt quite sick afterwards with stomach ache. Adrenaline reduces blood supply to the stomach and so you feel pain even though you have no problems with your digestive tract.
Therefore you do not require a physical structural problem, disease or infection to feel pain. Furthermore the release of stress chemicals will undoubtedly make pre-existing pain worse and old underlying pain circuits can be reignited without a structural change or new injury.
Those suffering with chronic pain often hear the quote that perhaps its in their head? Well yes it may well be but that doesn’t mean that the perception is not one hundred percent real and visceral for those suffering.
Calming the nervous system and trying to separate ourselves from the causes of stress and anxiety should be our first port of call when it comes to dealing with long term pain and this is something we will discuss in the weeks to come.
For the full message go to the free resource section on the lornhealthyoptions.co.uk website.
Rob Graham, Lead Exercise Professional, Healthy Options.