Understanding pain – part 2

Learn more about pain to get control over it

The danger sensors

The body contains millions of sensors that convey information towards the spinal cord. Sensors are specialized and respond to only one type of stimulation : mechanical forces, temperature fluctuations or chemical changes.

This is how a pain-killing injection at the dentist closes mechanical sensors, so they can’t detect mechanical stimuli anymore. 

On the opposite side, getting stung by a stingray is described as one of the most painful experience ever. In that case, the sensors are being locked open.


Danger sensors and chronic pain

For people with chronic pain, the good news is that the life of these sensors is short – a few days, before getting replaced.

This means that our sensitivity keeps changing. The sensor mix is usually balanced, but can quickly change, depending on the brain’s decision. The rate of production of the sensors can change too – more hope for persistent pain sufferers!


“All or none” threshold of pain sensors

To get excited and send a message to our brain, a neuron needs to reach a critical level of stimulation.

Every time a sensor opens, this level gets closer to a critical level, at which even very small events may start the message.

This is why so often, people describe the onset of an acute back pain episode as being related to something very common or benign. They grab a pen from the floor, or the stretch their back, or bend forward to tie their laces. 

This normal, daily-life activity opens enough sensors to reach the critical threshold. And then a danger message is sent out to the brain, who ultimately decides if the pain starts.

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