What Percent of the Nervous System Perceives Pain? Exploring Pain Perception

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Studies suggest that about 10% of our entire nervous system is dedicated to sensing pain. The good thing about that is, if that were not the case, we would be feeling pain a lot more often than we do. However, your nervous system has a lot of jobs.

It has to decipher things like hot from cold. It has to be able to filter out noises, understand them, and put them in your brain in an understandable way. You have to see things your eyes perceive, and then your brain transmits them into messages. So, there are many things that your nervous system does besides the sensation of pain. That's why a lot of people think that it's more than that because when they have pain, it's noticeable. Typically, it's only 10% of what is perceivable.

Pain is one of those things that is an arbitrary thing because a lot of people have abilities to tolerate pain. Some people have low thresholds for tolerance. It depends on the person and how their nervous system responds to the stimulus.

Why is it that some pain is delayed and some more immediate?

Your body is perceiving things all day long. For example, you could rake on Sunday, and you could have done some damage to your muscle tissue at that time. However, your body had been pumping out adrenaline up to that point because you raked leaves hard all day Sunday. Your body had been pumping out adrenaline to help with the demands your body had been putting on it to get that hard work done.

Once the adrenaline system (the sympathetic nervous system) has had a chance to slow down, the parasympathetic nervous system starts to work. That's when your body does an inventory of "how's my body doing today?" Sometimes, at that point, you'll say, "Oh, here's a pain," your body will register it in your nervous system as pain, and you will feel it. So, it's not always something that happens immediately unless it's a strong stimulus.

How does my body handle pain?

The most significant answer is this: a lot of times, people do injure themselves, and your body handles it. Your body sends out white blood cells to fix the injury; it helps by sending out endorphins, and it will send out hormones so that you don't feel the pain. The injury is there, but you don't necessarily feel it.

Sometimes, the injury is just there, and your body is not able to heal it because you are not letting your body heal or you are doing something that is continually re-injuring it. Finally, it gets to the point where that stimulus is met, the action potential is met, and then your body says, "OK, I can't do this anymore, or I can't cover this up naturally," and then you feel the pain.

It depends on how severe the injury is and how much your body can handle it. Some healthy people don't feel half of their injuries because their body heals them. The unhealthier people are the ones who feel every little thing, every misstep, every little slip or fall because their bodies are not healthy, to begin with, so they can't heal themselves. Then what winds up happening is a small thing like a misstep off a sidewalk can put them in bed for five days. People always ask, "Why am I in pain? How did I do this?" You have to retrace your steps and figure out what you did to yourself and not do it again.

Suppose the body has experienced a car accident or significant trauma. In that case, it's enough of a stimulus for your body to recognize it as a pain, and there is so much pain stimulus that your body cannot handle it simultaneously. So what will happen? You've heard these stories of people who are in serious car accidents, and they get out of the car, are seemingly OK, and then once the adrenaline wears off, they realize they aren't OK.

If the stimulus is strong, your body will experience an adrenaline dump. You won't even notice that you're injured until that adrenaline dump stops, and you'll realize that you're injured, and that's when your body will feel it. The greater the stimulus, the more quickly you'll feel the problem.

The Role of the Brain in Interpreting Pain

The nervous system plays a vital role in perceiving and transmitting pain signals throughout our bodies. However, the brain ultimately interprets and makes sense of these signals. When we experience pain, it is not solely due to the nerves but rather how our brain processes and responds to those signals.

Emotional Component of Pain

In addition to physical sensations, pain also has an emotional component. The brain's limbic system, which controls emotions and motivation, plays a significant role in perceiving pain. This emotional aspect explains why two individuals can have different reactions to similar levels of pain - factors such as fear, anxiety, or previous experiences can influence how intensely we feel pain.

Gate Control Theory

Another interesting concept related to pain perception is the gate control theory. According to this theory, "gates" within our spinal cord regulate whether or not we perceive certain sensations as painful. These gates can be influenced by attention, distraction techniques (such as rubbing an injured area), or psychological factors like stress or mood.

What do I do if I experience pain?

Schedule an appointment so we can determine the cause. Getting the facts and knowing what you're dealing with is essential.

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