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Causes & Sources of Pain

By Editorial Team (A)
February 22, 2022

No one wants to have pain. The idea that pain is, in reality, a good thing sounds crazy, but it’s true—pain protects us, and without it, we would be in trouble. How does that work?

Why do we experience pain

Pain receptors are found throughout the body, internally, as well as on the outside surface. These are sensors that use the spinal cord as a pathway to send electrical signals to your brain. The brain interprets these electrical signals or messages as pain. These messages are sent quickly, and the body can respond equally fast, sometimes even bypassing the usual brain processing centers. For example, suppose you step on a tack. Your brain gets the signal that your foot has touched something painful. As a result, you pull your foot back to prevent further injury even before you’re aware of what is happening.

Source of pain

The pathways along which signals travel vary, and so do the pain receptors. This variability accounts for where the pain is felt or experienced in the body. To clarify, it depends on where the signal is coming from and the path it takes to reach the brain. Sometimes, it is difficult to identify the source of pain. For example, the person can experience the pain caused by a heart attack in the jaw. Similarly, a disc injury in the lower back may be a source of the pain radiating into the foot. People also differ in the amount of pain they can tolerate and how they react to medicines for pain.

Classifications of the pain

Usually, the pain is classified by the type of damage causing it. There are three categories:

  • pain resulting from tissue damage (nociceptive pain)
  • pain resulting from nerve damage (neuropathic pain)
  • pain resulting from psychological factors (psychogenic pain)

Another classification of pain involves the tissue type or part of the body it affects. For example, pain may be located in the chest – chest pain, back – back pain, muscles – muscular pain.

Pain causes

Most often, the pain comes from tissue damage. The last may include an injury of the bone, soft tissue or organ. Moreover, the pain caused by tissue damage may result from a disease or trauma.

Pain that results from nerve damage occurs due to impaired transmission of signals. Several types of nerve damage exist. It can be a result of a disease like diabetes. Alternatively, trauma or certain medications can induce nerve damage. Among other causes are conditions like stroke or HIV infection.

Sometimes, pain doesn’t seem to have a cause, and researchers haven’t discovered why or conditions can result in severe dysfunctions of the nerve pathways. However, if you have any of the following issues, you’re not alone. Many people have these conditions, but they can be challenging to treat.

Trigger points

These are sometimes called muscle knots. They play a part in most people’s pain, but why they occur is a mystery. If you have fibromyalgia, you are probably very familiar with trigger points. Tiny muscle spasms may cause them. In addition, trigger points may be related to nerve problems. They can cause severe pain that can spread in unpredictable patterns. They often pop up in association with injuries.

Brain pain

Sometimes, the pain intensifies due to anxiety or stress. However, it doesn’t mean that pain is not real or doesn’t exist. Pain is not just “in your head” in this case, but your body is more sensitive due to your emotions.


Sometimes, pain seems to cause more distress than it should because certain chemicals in the body send excessive pain signals to the brain.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

This condition results in severe pain, most often in a leg or an arm, related to a complicated dysfunction or malfunction of the nervous system.

Referred pain

Many times, pain is difficult for the body to locate. There are not enough pain receptors for each precise location, and sometimes the pain signals or messages get mixed up. As a result, the person can experience internal pain in one part of the body in a different location.

One last pain phenomenon has a known cause, but it is mentioned here to help you avoid it. It is known as analgesic rebound pain. Your own body has its responses designed to fight pain. For example, when the brain senses pain, it sends out pain killers or endorphins. However, when you take many pain pills, even over-the-counter medications, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, it’s possible to blunt your body’s production of its pain-fighting resources. As a result, when you don’t take the usual amount of pain medication, you suffer “rebound” pain, which may be worse than the initial discomfort.

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