Is pain an output from the body or an input from the brain?

How many times have you heard your old-school coach or grandmother tell you that your pain is only in your head?

Well it turns out without knowing it they were 100% correct. So here is the real question: Is pain an output from the body or an input from the brain?

It was previously believed that Pain is generated from the body and passively perceived by the brain. However, more in depth research has proven this theory is completely incorrect.

Simply put, the brain interprets signals sent from the body and filters the information to decide if a painful stimulus or response is required to protect the body part from ongoing injury and damage.

Therefore, the brain controls the amount of pain received in the body not the opposite way around.

A common question often asked in the physiotherapy clinic is “why does this movement hurt for me when it doesn’t hurt for my aunt who also has back pain”. The simple answer is no two brains will interpret this information in the same way. As we all know the brain is a complex piece of equipment and no two brains are exactly the same.

When recognising these pattern’s the brain is required to filter a large array of factors and must negotiate our personalities, past memories and emotions associated with previous episodes of pain.

Therefore, it may be assumed that pain is entirely a personal and individual experience for each patient and is not reflective of the amount of tissue damage that has occurred in the body but is often a perceived response in the brain.

So, when your consultant or GP suggest that your pain is not a physical manifestation of the level of injury that has occurred but is an interpretation that is in your head they are entirely correct.

However, without this simple explanation many Patients leave feeling like the health care professional has told them their pain is not real and is only a figment of their imagination.

How does this information help me control my low back pain?

We have determined above that it is reasonable to suggest that pain is driven from our brains and not our bodies. Thus, our brains will then recognise patterns of potential pain and encourage protective behaviours to allow time for the healing process to take place and to minimise further injury.

The difficulty is that our brains are sometimes like our parents as they become a little over protective. In essence, our brain is trying to protect us but does not recognise the correct time to allow us to regain or improve our movement patterns to prevent movement dysfunction and fear avoidance of movement. This is where Physiotherapy and Pilates come in.