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Why hurt doesn't always equal harm

Why Hurt Doesn’t Always Equal Harm.


Pain is a fascinating and sometimes perplexing aspect of human experience. Whether it’s a headache, a muscle strain, or a stubbed toe, pain often serves as a signal that something isn’t quite right in our bodies. But what if I told you that not all pain is a sign of harm? In this blog post, we’ll explore the intriguing concept that hurt doesn’t always equal harm, how you might be able to tell the difference, and what to do when you experience pain that isn’t necessarily linked directly with “damage.”

Understanding Pain:

Before we delve into the notion of hurt versus harm, let’s take a moment to understand what pain actually is. Pain is a complex and multifaceted perception that involves both physical and emotional components. It’s our body’s way of alerting us to potential danger or tissue damage, but it’s also influenced by a variety of other factors, including our emotions, beliefs around what pain is and what is contributing towards our pain, as well as our past experiences. It’s the potential danger that’s so important to understand and can be hard to get our head around. Our body and brain doesn’t always get things right. Let’s give you an example. If you saw a health professional and were told that you were “out of alignment,” and that was the cause of your pain, and then you had a treatment and they then said at the end of the session you were now in alignment which corresponded with you getting out of pain, you may quite rightly make a strong association that it was the alignment that was the issue. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this in theory, so long as you never get that type of pain again. But if you were to, it would seem logical that you would associate that pain with being out of alignment, and then seek a professional who could “fix you.” And here lies the issue, and I see it all the time in clinic. Patients become stuck in this never ending cycle of being in pain and then constantly seeking treatments to get fixed due to miseducation in the past, often leading to cycles of persistent pain. The belief has now become the driving factor of the pain. The original cause of pain in this case can’t be known, but by being poorly educated on what was going on at the time, it can have a lifetime effect on your perception of pain moving forward. 

The Brain’s Pain Processing Center:

When it comes to pain, the brain is like our body’s command centre. It plays a starring role in processing and interpreting incoming signals. The primary region responsible for this task is the somatosensory cortex, where sensory information from different parts of the body is mapped out and analyzed. But that’s not all – other brain areas, such as the thalamus (in charge of relaying information) and limbic system (in charge of emotions and memory), also get in on the action, adding emotional and cognitive dimensions to our experience of pain, as well as supplying context. This goes some way to explain why your pain can be so heavily influenced by the external factors going on around you. How often has your pain suddenly disappeared when you’ve gone on holiday? Is it because your body has miraculously healed overnight? It would be fair to assume that being in the sun has helped with the pain, and therefore maybe the cold is causing damage to your body? But perhaps it’s not that straight forward. Perhaps it’s actually because of all the various factors that contribute towards pain, such as poor sleep, stress and the lack of movement that comes with our work that may have been altered? 

The Gate Control Theory:

Ever heard of the gate control theory of pain? It’s a brilliant concept that suggests we can dial down the volume on pain signals by flooding the brain with other non-painful sensory input such as rubbing a bumped knee, applying a cold pack or evening listening to your favourite song can reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain. It’s like giving your brain something else to focus on instead of the pain. This is why it’s so important to keep yourself busy during periods of prolonged pain, and why it’s not always the best idea to stop work completely when possible, as this can in some cases actually increase our pain perception, giving us more time to focus on our pain. 


In conclusion, the concept that hurt doesn’t always equal harm challenges our traditional understanding of pain. While pain can certainly be a valuable signal of potential danger, it’s not always an accurate indicator of tissue damage or injury. By understanding the complexities of pain perception and considering factors such as the brain’s role, psychological state, and context, we can develop a more nuanced approach to managing pain and promoting overall well-being. So the next time you experience pain, remember – it’s not always a cause for alarm, and there are often ways to alleviate it without causing harm.

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