I mentioned in a previous post on pain, the pain – spasm cycle, if we can stop one of these two from occurring the other will stop (usually). In order to stop them we must remove the stimulus completely. So how can we stop the pain?
The first and easiest way to stop the pain is to stop doing whatever it is that is causing the pain. The simple story of; you say, “Dad! It hurts every time I do (fill in the blank_______)” he replies, “Well stop doing that,” applies in this setting. If you stop the stimuli from occurring then there can’t be a response, therefore the cycle is broken. See how simple that is and it is proved by SCIENCE.
These next few ways of stopping pain are REALLY important to understand. They become the backbone to how everything anyone does works, theoretically works, or doesn’t work at all. It is these concepts that we can all relate to as well as drive us to do some dumb things when we actually do get hurt. These concepts or theories all mask the pain that exists. While they aren’t actually healing the injury, they are covering up the pain so the body can heal itself.
The first theory is called Gate Control Theory. Now before you turn your brain off here is where you have seen it/used it before. Have you ever heard the term “Just rub dirt on it” or have you ever rubbed your head after you nailed it on a cabinet door? Well you have actively participated in gate control. The idea behind this is that the pain you are feeling travels down a specific nerve path way. Along the way there are gates. Only one signal (the largest) is allowed to pass through the gate. By creating a bigger signal, RUBBING it, you over ride the other signal and there for the pain stimulus is masked, for a short period of time. Pretty sweet right, you didn’t know you were practicing theories your whole life! So now if you get hurt reading this post then just rub it for a bit and the pain will be masked.
Ok now for a more complicated theory. This one is called Endorphin Release. If you are thinking that an endorphin is something that is involved in adrenaline then you are correct. The way this works is that there is a chemical mediator (a substance) that passes from one nerve to another. Because this chemical is present your body keeps acting as if the pain is still occurring. After a certain period of time your brain starts to produce endorphins that block the chemical mediators from passing the information from one nerve to another. If you have ever heard of the term “runner’s high” this is the point at which a runner feels like they can run forever and their body doesn’t feel any pain. The body is producing these endorphins which are blocking all pain receptors, so naturally you feel AMAZING! This type of blocking is the basic function of how Tylenol (“Lonely T” backward) or acetaminophen works. It blocks the transferring of pain from one nerve to another. Morphine and other drugs do this as well.
The final type of pain masking I will be talking about is even more complicated. This is considered a more psychological pain mask. This is when our bodies change to mask the pain. The body adjusts by saying ok so this new level of pain really isn’t hurting me and there for I won’t let it affect me. Hopefully this example will help. Let’s assume you are sitting on your hand. After a period of time the pain stops. Your body assumes that this must be a normal feeling and adjusts to recognize this as normal. Many people who have high pain thresholds have this filter process going. This one is very difficult to address as it has to do a lot with the personality of the person and typically isn’t focused on in rehabilitation except for maybe a select few cases.
I tried to break these concepts down to easily understandable ideas. If you have any questions about how these work or would like clarification on them let me know. I will be doing more on this pain series discussing how different treatments work like ice and heat.