Pain is a construct of the brain, where information is being sent and processed for a particular output.
It is based off of a few things, mainly our past experiences and expectations. When the brain is bombarded with millions of pieces of information per a second, some things need to be automated and have a system to process a particular response. When information is sent up, we have a particular expectation of what that may do to us, and even more so if we had a past experience.
For example, If you ran for a mile for the first time and rolled your ankle at the end, you would have a bad experience associated with running. This ingrains a painful event that may make you leery of running a mile again, and when you do, there is the potential you go into a protective mode where your ankle will hurt after a mile of running or even tense in the area, despite you not rolling it. (Seems crazy, but happens). In the same example, you may run a mile for the first time and feel great. That creates a good experience and association that you can expect again.
Granted this is a simple example, and you may do things 100 times again and never have a problem, but the first time you get back into it, there’s a sense of unease, followed by a sense of calm once everything is completed.
After having a new experience with the run, your brain is sent ne information from the experience and you may create a new expectation for the activity again.
Another example would be if you hurt your back bending over to pick something up, you may have tension in the area if you were to repeat the action. Your body is expecting it to hurt again, and as a way to avoid a threat, it creates tension and potential pain to alert you that something may be wrong.
You may even see someone do the same action in a distance and feel pain/tension in the back again because it is associated with a past experience that you have set an expectation of that movement being painful.
So know you can tell your friends that “Yes, the pain is constructed in my head because it’s based on information from the body being processed and the brain judging an outcome from past experiences and expectations”.
That should shut them up.
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Dr. Peter Dionisopoulos is the owner and founder of Dynamic Performance & Rehab. He has worked with many high-level athletes and military personnel, but his true passion is to help active adults maintain their lifestyle by providing information and potential solutions to their aches and pains so they can continue with the activities they love.