What is the Pain Process?

How Does the Body Know it Hurts?

The pain process, pain, hurt, ouch, oweee, or what ever else it is referred to as, it is an unpleasant sensation.

The definition of pain includes the sensory experience related to tissue damage, both actual and potential. To understand this experience will help in the process of pain management. Better treatments mean improved lives.

Our motto, no pain, no pain.

Most Common Pains

The three most common forms of pain reported and treated in the US are headache, backache, and metastatic pain or cancer pain.

Pain is subjective. That means it is different to each and everyone. If you just came from the previous page you learned about the description of a cherry. It is hard to describe something that is subjective.

However description will be easier if you know the pain process. It will help with treating the pain with the right medicine.

There are commonalities related to how it is perceived. The perception is measurable. First, a positive thought about the pain process.

Pain Can Be Good

Pain can produce positive results.

  • It can serve as a protection (warning when beginning to feel pain related to proximity or exertion of painful stimulus)
  • It can actuate thinking processes (avoidance)
  • It can have a legislative effect (remembered pain prevents actions that will result in pain)
  • Pain can produce debilitating effects

  • It can affect appetite
  • It can affect sleep
  • It can be prevent normal daily activities
  • It can increase heart and respiratory rates
  • What is the Pain Process?

    There are four steps involved in how our bodies process pain.

  • Transduction
  • Transmission
  • Perception
  • Modulation
  • Transduction

    Nociceptors could be thought of as little receivers located in our skin, bones, deep tissues and viscera. They pick up the message when it is loud enough.

    The pain has to be above a certain threshold before it can be picked up to be sent. In reality, instead of sound, it is a chemical that becomes an action potential.


    The message is next transmitted via the peripheral nerves to the spinal cord and to the dorsal horn. From here they are diverted to the thalamus where they are sorted out and sent on to the cerebral cortex. This is where you get the message that it hurts.

    Technically speaking, it is all in your head.

    Pain in the skin comes from dermatome's. In the viscera of our organs it is different. They have a specific area of referred pain.

    This is why angina or heart pain can manifest as arm or neck pain. A heart attack is a prime example of the need to understand pain and the pain process.

    Because of vegas nerves, some pain such as tooth pain can be referred (it feels like it is some place other than where it originates or is referred to another location) to the visceral organs or a generalized pain.


    The cerebral cortex discriminates where the pain is from or rather, is going to be felt. It creates measurable references for the pain so that it will have an intensity, quality and location.

    Because pain is felt on many dimensions, there can be associated emotional feelings of anxiety, fear, or pleasure (as in a good hurt or runners high from a hard workout).


    How we deal with the pain can include facilitation and inhibition. Our actions to prevent, decrease or manage pain are part of the modulation process.

    This is only the most basic overview of the pain process.

    Armed with this information you are ready for the next step. No it is not which pain medication. It is not even time to consider natural pain relief modalities available.

    With all pain and especially chronic pain relief it is necessary to also know the classification of pain. There are three classifications and each has a sub classification or type.

    What are the Classifications of Pain?

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