PAIN MECHANICS | Killing Pain | New Route

Biological Activity

Mechanics of Pain

When cells are damaged, a whole series of events trigger the sensation of pain to alert us to the problem. Without pain, we would be a great hazard to ourselves. People affected by leprosy experience degeneration of their nervous system, so cannot feel pain. They damage themselves unintentionally and find their fingers and toes disappear mysteriously overnight. This mystery was eventually solved by diligent researchers who stayed up all night and saw rats come and eat the patient's fingers and toes while he/she slept on. Similarly, children with no sensation of pain bite their own fingers off, and seldom live long.


However, the downside is that in disorders where the pain is chronic, pain serves no purpose except to make the patient suffer more than necessary.

An integral part of the pain transmission mechanism is via neurons (nerve cells). A neurone receives stimulus at one end, fires, and transfers the signal to the next neurone. Where 2 neurones meet, the gap in between is the synapse, and the signal is propagated across the gap by chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are integral to our perception of pain, as well for blocking it.

On the other side of the synapse, there are receptors which these neurotransmitters bind to, and once enough neurotransmitters have bound, the next neurone will fire.

Only once the 'pain' signal arrives from the nervous system to our brain do we register the feeling.


Different neural circuits are responsible for acute (i.e. short term) pain and chronic pain (long term, lasting over 2 months). Acute pain is often useful e.g. in order to stay away from sharp objects, but chronic pain, caused by tissue damage, e.g. from cancer, is difficult to deal with, as it persists even once the stimulus has been removed.

The problem with pain relief...

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