you mean it's all in my head?

Updated: Apr 22

by Samantha Berry

What causes my pain?

In my last blog I was explaining that all pain is generated by the brain, but does this mean that it is all in your head, that it isn't real? ALL pain we feel is absolutely real whatever the cause it is just that sometimes the pain we experience can be more (or less) than we expect to feel for a particular injury or problem. Take a look at this picture...

You would expect this gentleman (we shall call him Jim) to be in extreme pain after all he does have rather a large knife sticking into his head! However, it was reported in the paper that he was walking down the street and felt what he thought was a raindrop hit his head, so he carried on without paying it much attention. A man coming out of a nearby shop noticed the unusual sight of a man walking casually down the street with a knife in his head and called out to him to ask if he was ok. It was only at this point that Jim noticed the knife and all at once he was in excruciating pain and needed to be rushed to the emergency department!

On the flip side, take a look at this picture

This gentleman (we shall call him Bill) jumped down onto a 15 cm nail and it penetrated his shoe. Again you would expect him to be in extreme pain and he certainly was! He was admitted to hospital where any movements caused him such agonising pain he had to be heavily sedated in order that he could be examined. Doctors then removed the nail and took off the shoe only to discover that the nail had entered the shoe between his toes and done no damage at all!

So was the pain all in his head? Well, the man was a builder and had no reason to 'fake' his pain, in fact he was more likely to want to appear more 'tough' amongst his work mates. The pain he felt was just as real as the pain Jim experienced, when he eventually felt it!

In both cases the brain had decided whether or not there was a threat to the body and responded accordingly. Jim's brain decided that nothing dangerous could happen whilst walking down the street and so did not send out any alarm bells, in form of pain, when it noticed the sensation on his head. Although, if you watched Lorimer Moseley's video from the last blog you can bet that things would be different the next time he felt a 'raindrop' on his head! Bills brain on the other hand decided that there must be severe injury to the foot and it needed protecting so it sent out very loud warning signals to him in the form of debilitating pain.

In other words our brain has the ability to decide whether we feel pain or not and how much. These 2 examples show how thoughts, beliefs and experience will directly affect how much pain we experience and that the size of the injury is not the main deciding factor.

Understanding our pain and knowing what to do can start to turn down the sensitivity switch in our brain and in turn have a positive impact on the pain we experience. All the more reason to get help early on to turn down the alarm bells and start feeling better sooner!

Watch this experiment to see exactly how your brain decides whether or not you should experience pain and to what extreme!


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