Many believe that pain is a product of injury, mostly because lived experiences taught us that pain is an essential internal warning system.

Many believe that pain is a product of injury or tissue damage, mostly because lived experiences taught us that pain is an essential internal warning system.

But that’s not all pain is. There are times when our internal alarm isn’t giving accurate information, and in times can be a bit slow. Due to experiences withpain, a common perception is constructed from sensory information and the context or circumstances whenpain is involved.

Pain Doesn’t Always Mean Damage

Pain is a great indicator of damage; however, that isn’t always the case. There are times when one thing can be damaging but doesn’t hurt, like when you get sunburned but don’t feelpain until skill cells begin to die.

One extreme example would be after Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen discovered X-rays that scientists and amateurs used at anything that would sit still long enough. Victims of radiation poisoning from overexposure to X-rays suffered severe skin and soft tissue damage and some developed cancers. But radiation exposure didn’t hurt, at least not during the process, but it still incurs damage.

Science has now helped us distinguish between a host of various sensory neurons, some specific to painful mechanical stimuli. In contrast, others are sensitive to temperature damage and others to specific chemicals.

A 2013 study by scientists from the University of Colorado describes the neurological signature of physicalpain, a neural pattern activation across a brain region network that tracked nociceptive activity.

Neuroscientists observed signatures in the brain when patients report intensepain with no damage at all.

This also indicated that nociceptive signals in the spinal cord and brain might explain phantom limb pains broadly felt by upwards of 90% of amputees.

Predictive Processing: Imaginary Pain

Since tissue damage can occur with no pain, and pain can occur without any tissue damage, why can we feel pain?

Science dictates that this is because of our bodies’ past experiences, the perception of pain, and the sense we make of sensations; it is constructed mainly from the context of circumstance rather than physical sensations.

According to a psychology professor from Northeastern University, Lisa Feldman Barett, the simulation of constructing and running our internal model is essentially the neuronal firing based on best guesses of what is about to happen next.

These simulations are based on all information gathered and stored from past experiences and the present state of the body, peripheral parts, and mental constructions.

We, normally, are only aware of our brain’s predictive system when the predictions are wrong. When we expect another step in a flight of stairs when there are none, a curb we step off that is much higher than expected are prime circumstances.

Several neuroscientists believe that the brain’s predictive processing is based on how humans’ brains are organized to function–a few milliseconds ahead of conscious awareness, allowing us to prepare and adapt.

Originally published at The Science Times