Many know that there is an obvious connection between nerves and pain. Do you ever wonder how and why you feel pain? How does your brain process pain? How your brain differentiates between the touch of a feather and the prick of a needle? In this article, we will discuss how your nervous system responds to pain and what you should do if you experience severe pain. But, the answer to these questions is not simple. Before understanding how nerves detect pain, you should know how the nervous system functions. Below, we will explain the complete process in simple words so you have an idea about what goes on when you feel pain.
What the Nervous System Does
There are two major components of your nervous system. The first part is the brain, which receives and sends signals, and the other part is the spinal cord, which transfers signals throughout the body. Both these systems combine to form the central nervous system. On the other hand, the peripheral nervous system comprises a motor and sensory nerves. The names are pretty self-explanatory when it comes to helping people understand their roles. The brain and spinal cord are the central commanding hubs, while sensory and motor nerves reach out to different parts of the body.
In simple words, sensory nerves send impulses to the body, indicating what is happening. It uses the spinal cord to transmit impulses straight to the brain. Once the brain processes the information, it sends signals to the motor nerves to act. The entire process is similar to a complex inbox-outbox mailing system.
How Nerves Identify Pain
Suppose you stepped on a pointy rock. Your sensory nerve of the peripheral nervous system immediately shares a signal from the nerves in your feet to the brain. That way, you can identify the difference between a soft toy and a sharp rock. Furthermore, the sensory nerve fibers differentiate between different items by producing varying chemical responses. That’s how your brain recognizes different sensations. There are different types of nerves in the body. The nerves that take signals associated with a light touch are different from nerves that respond to deep pressure.
When you experience an injury or almost experienced one, it can trigger special pain receptors. These are nociceptors, and they activate when your skin breaks. Now, you may wonder why you experience pain when you step on the rock, and the skin does not rupture. In this condition, the tissues in your foot compress and trigger the receptors. When these receptors are triggered, the impulse reaches the brain through the nerve and spinal cord. This entire process takes place in a fraction of a second.
How Spinal Cord Responds to Pain?
The spinal cord is a complicated bundle of numerous nerves. Every signal passes through the spinal cord before reaching your brain. The spinal cord works as a freeway that allows the motor and sensory impulses to pass through. The spinal cord acts as a message center, and it makes basic decisions such as reflexes. A region in your spinal cord, known as the dorsal horn, works as an information hub. It sends signals to the brain, which sends back signals to the affected area. The brain doesn’t send signals to the foot to move away from the rock. The dorsal region takes care of this activity. If your brain works as the CEO of your body, your spinal cord would be middle management.
How Does the Brain Respond to Pain?
The spinal reflex takes place in the dorsal horn, but the brain still receives the pain signals. This happens because pain requires more than simple response and stimulus. The problem won’t be solved by removing your foot from the rock. Remember, you need to heal the affected tissue as well. Therefore, when the brain receives signals from the spinal cord, it associates the situation with previous emotions stored in the brain’s library. The pain signal enters the thalamus region, which again sends signals to other areas for interpretation. The areas in the cortex determine the source of the pain. Furthermore, it compares pain with other kinds of pain and defines the intensity. Your limbic system, which is your brain’s emotional center, also receives pain signals from the thalamus. Have you ever wondered why some pain makes you cry while other doesn’t? The limbic system manages the feelings associated with every sensation and generates a response. Furthermore, it increases your heartbeat and causes sweating. All because of a single pointy, sharp rock under your foot.
Nerves and Pain: Conclusion
Your brain also categorizes different kinds of pain. Some pain is acute, so the signals of this pain subside over time. But some pain can be chronic, so it stays for a long time. Therefore, it is essential to visit a pain management doctor if the pain stays for more than two weeks.