All humans throughout time have done absolutely everything in their power to avoid pain at all costs (just like every other animal out there), and our central nervous system has been specifically designed to allow our bodies to almost immediately respond to even the slightest bit of pain in record time.
And that’s good news, considering the fact that even a slightly delayed reaction to pain could cause irreparable harm or a significant amount of extra damage to our bodies that we would be able to recover from. The other good news of course is that we have available today a wide range of painkillers to stop pain.
Just imagine how painful and how damaging it would be to not be able to recognize instantly that dipping our hands into hot cooking oil was bad news! Even a single moment of delay could completely change our lives forever.
Researchers have long studied how pain actually works and what happens when we are dealing with pain to begin with, and it’s pretty fascinating stuff. Though it’s impossible to break down all of the nuances of how pain works in the human body, we are going to put together a quick overview that lets you better understand exactly what’s going on when you get hurt.
An immediate reaction at the point of injury
All nerve cells are made up of a very delicate and perfectly balanced concoction of sodium, potassium, and calcium. When you become hurt the perfectly mixed elements go all kinds of crazy, dumping sodium between the cell membranes that causes a firing off of electrical charges that ride the nerve network all the way to your brain.
Different nerves for different kinds of pain
But the message of pain when you prick your finger doesn’t go directly from the tip of your index finger to your brain – no, something even more miraculous happens!
Depending upon the type of pain that you’re dealing with (mechanical pain, chemical pain, or thermal pain) the message will travel along different types of nerve fiber before it hits your spinal cord to get delivered in your brain.
Pain is processed in the body faster than you’d ever think possible
Regardless of where the pain originates on your body it will eventually hit your spinal cord somewhere between your fifth and seventh vertebrae. It all depends upon where you get hurt, but at the end of the day all messages from all nerves in your body will hit your spinal cord before traveling up into the brain.
Pain caused by a burn is going to be fired up the spinal column in 0.01 seconds – which seems fastest, until you realize that chemical and mechanical pain will be processed by your body 10 times faster.
Everything gets processed in the thalamus area of the brain, and from their immediate reactions – to pull away, to defend yourself, to protect the injury, etc. – are transmitted back throughout your body so that you react on autopilot.