Are you experiencing pain? Pain can be both physical and emotional, and results from actual or perceived damage to tissues. That’s right—pain is all in your head. But regardless of whether the damage is real or not, pain most definitely feels real.
Why do we have pain? It is our body’s way of protecting itself from danger and can be a warning sign of damage rather than damage itself. Although injury pain is different from the pain we feel from a hard athletic effort, the concept is the same. Athletic pain is our body’s way of telling us that we are approaching our physical capacity, and if we continue at the same intensity, we will soon run out of energy or other essential needs. However, the athletic limit of individuals can be altered to push through performance barriers.
How is it that a runner can feel like she is in so much pain that it is impossible to go any faster, but then suddenly find the energy to sprint for the finish? The body’s reserves are the same, but the brain perceives the end of misery to be near and allows free use of available resources. In a similar way, injury pain warns us to protect vulnerable areas of our body. Nociceptors, or special nerves throughout the body, send signals to the brain to create feelings of pain. Everyone experiences pain differently and life experience can increase or decrease the way we perceive situations related to pain. If we have had a previous back injury, for example, the next time we are in a situation that might cause back injury, it can trigger warning pain to prevent us from overworking and leading to re-injury.
The American Physical Therapists Association Move Forward Guide to Pain tells us: