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Your body has roughly twenty different nerve endings in the skin that tell you if something is hot, cold, or going to be painful. The nerve endings convey this information to the brain and spinal cord, also known as the central nervous system, areas where we perceive the stimuli. To accomplish this, the nerve endings of the sensory receptors convert mechanical, thermal, or chemical energy into electrical signals or the painful sensations you actually feel: searing, burning, pounding, or throbbing, among others.
However, pain is more than what you feel at a particular anatomical site. Researchers believe that pain is in your nerves.
Pain begins with a physical stimulus (damage to tissue or nerves) which is modified in the brain. It results in an awareness that something harmful or noxious is happening somewhere in the body. This results in an emotional response, a behavior that is associated with intense feelings of displeasure. Pain has a protective purpose. It is a warning sign of wounding or damage.
When a person experiences pain, the perception of pain involves a coordinated effort between the peripheral nerves, spinal cord and brain.
Peripheral nerves associated with the skin, muscles, connective tissue, bones, joints and the lining of internal organs are equipped with specialized receptors called nociceptors. When nociceptors detect injury or the potential for injury, they initiate a pain message and send it along the peripheral nerves toward your spinal column. This message is sent in the form of an electrical impulse. The spinal cord then transmits the message to the brain. In the brain, the electrical signal translates into the sensation known as pain.
Have you ever noticed how it takes longer to feel pain from a stubbed toe compared to a hurt finger? That's because the nerves transmitting the pain message from your foot to your brain are relatively long compared to nerves running from your hands to your brain; it takes longer for a pain message from your foot to register in the brain.
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.