Do you really understand your pain? by Dee Ryan, Chartered Physiotherapist

Pain is often misunderstood, and as a result can cause fear. This fear and confusion can drive our pain experience. This blog explores the true meaning of pain with you. It might facilitate a different approach to your pain management, and hopefully can improve your coping strategies.

Pain is the body’s alarm system. It is designed to be a helpful response to protect you. This alarm system is assisted by your vision, hearing, smell and taste. For example, at halloween you see a bonfire, hear the wood crackling, smell/taste the smoke and feel the warmth. These sensory cues are helping your brain decide how best to respond to a given situation.

A key point to understand about pain is that once the brain decides you’re in danger, you will feel pain with or without the presence of tissue damage.


Pain can be straight forward. But like most things in life, it can also be a complex process requiring some patience. Pain from direct tissue damage is clearly understood – an ankle sprain for example, see our Rory McIlroy blog –

Here, for example, the ligaments are sprained and in an attempt to protect you (how loving!) your brain decides the ligaments are at risk and need healing. Subsequently pain is felt in order to allow ligament repair and remodelling.
Pain can also be reflective of behaviour, emotions, memories, belief systems and what the pain means to you. A nice analogy for this is to imagine the ingredients of emotion, stress, memory, belief and behaviour are mixed together and make up the batter to a special kind of cake called pain. This cake is cooked in a particular oven called the brain. How the cake of pain turns out is very much so dependent on the oven – what temperature it is cooked at, how long it is cooked for etc. So it is clear the brain directly influences the end product- the pain cake.


pain management Personal Health Dublin 6

Is your pain getting out of hand?

Regardless of analogies, there is a proven science to this…..

Our body house these incredible sensors which continuously send messages to the brain via electrical impulses (neural pathways). Some sensors report on temperature, some respond to mechanical change, others to chemical change. There is a certain type of wire called a nociceptor which delivers messages of danger to your brain. They respond to any form of stimulus which is considered a threat. Remember nociception is just the delivery postman of the message, not the message itself.
Not every message being delivered from the sensors reach the brain. At the level of the spinal cord there is a sorting process, and the number of messages being passed is under control. Similar to a bouncer manning a nightclub. The danger messages can sometimes be granted access and are delivered to the brain. Here the brain has to make a decision how best to react to all this information it has been given.

Dee Ryan Chartered Physiotherapist in Dublin 6 discusses the complexity of pain

Those shoes are quite nice mate…..

Next week I will discuss the various systems which the brain calls upon in its response to these issues. Similarly I will expand on the effects of pain over a prolonged period of time- known as ‘chronic pain’.
Be a friend and tag a friend who you feel will benefit from further understanding the processes involved in the pain experience!
And now my parting gift to you until next week….a superb video which explains pain in less than 5 minutes: