Pain – what is it and how does it work?


Unpleasant Experience

Pain is an unpleasant experience, that makes you want to stop or change what you are doing. Pain is not a sign of damage to your body, as sometimes you can have lots of damage and no pain, like when a footballer finishes a match despite a broken ankle; or no damage but lots of pain, like when your back really hurts but your x-ray is normal. It’s better to think of pain as an alarm system, warning you to take action to protect yourself.

The Nerves

Throughout your body is a clever system of nerves, looking for changes in temperature, chemical balance or pressure, and then telling your brain. Your brain then weighs up those messages; deciding if you are in danger requiring protection, which is likely to result in pain. Or if you are safe, equalling less or no pain.

The weighing up process involves listening to the messages from your body, and also considering other factors such as your past history, beliefs, fear, expectations, cultural and social backgrounds, and anything else you sense with your eyes, ears or nose.

Persistent Pain

In chronic, or persistent pain, your body and nerves become more sensitive, which can mean you are over-protected by pain, ie you feel pain, when you are not in danger of hurting yourself.

What can you do about your pain?

To reduce pain, you need to give your brain more proof of safety, and less proof of danger. Proof of safety can be things like keeping active, understanding about pain, following advice from your Physio or GP. Proof of danger can be things like looking at your scans, not leaving the house or thinking “I’ve got Dad’s knees, they’ll never get better”.

Although unpleasant, pain is a necessary part of life. It’s what stops you keeping your hand over a hot stove, or from walking on an injured foot, and it encourages you to rest or make an appointment with the Physio or a GP. Without it you’d be in much more trouble!


If you would like to know more about how pain works, or how you can reduce yours, you can contact us on 02086030040 or email

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