Understanding How Pain Works

Posted on Mar 25, 2013

Despite years’ of research, the mechanisms underlying pain are still not well understood.  The receptors in skin and organs which detect noxious stimuli that the brain identifies as “pain” are varied.  Molecular mechanisms in these same receptors can also distinguish among temperature, pressure and chemicals.  

Several kinds of nerve fibers (A fibers such as the A-beta fibers (Aβ), A-delta fibers (Aδ), and the C fibers) couple with receptors in the skin and organs to transmit “messages” in the form of bioelectrical impulses to the spinal column and then to the brain. The intensity of the impulse transmitted is proportional to the breadth and strength of the noxious stimulus. 

Acute pain is perceived differently than chronic pain, and chronic pain may be real or a misinterpretation by the brain. Additionally, some patients’ brains can “identify” the gentlest touch as being extremely painful since for some unknown reason the whole pain-sensing function has been seriously over-sensitized. Yet, if a patient is experiencing pain, treatment is necessary, even though determining the exact cause of pain may be difficult or even impossible.