Pain is not real?

September 12, 2017



We have all suffered from pain in one way or another. If it's grabbing a cup that was too hot, cutting yourself when cooking or stubbing your toe. They're all different experiences, caused by different things but all lead to one thing... PAIN. 


Pain is real when you're experiencing it. You can feel it, sense it and know where is hurting. So how can it not be real!?


Let me ask you a few questions before I go on...

Why can paper cuts cause horrific amounts of pain but some rugby players don't seem too phased about being smashed in the ribs? And how can amputees still feel pain in limbs that aren't there?


An example of pain being a strange sensation is the story of the builder who jumped down onto a 15 cm nail from a ladder. Even the slightest movement of the nail caused excruciating pain, so the builder had to be sedated so that the nail could be removed. Once the nail was removed, the builders boot was removed and something strange was noticed. The foot was entirely uninjured and the nail had passed between their toes... (1). 


This means that things that are painful aren't always causing damage or injury. However, pain and harm can also be affected in the opposite direction, with people feeling less pain than we imagine they should be. There's always stories of soldiers being shot and carrying on going or injured footballers playing on ankle sprains.



Pain is a product of the brain 100% of the time


Peripheral nerves play an important role in the creation of pain. This DOES NOT mean that they are pain fibres... They send the signals to the brain that they think something that is potentially damaging or of enough importance present somewhere around the body. The brain then decides whether or not this stimulus is painful dependent on a MASSIVE range of factors, that help to put everything into context. These factors include previous experience, cultural influence, knowledge, age, gender, ethnicity... (the list goes on and on).


To complicate things further, any processing of potentially painful or dangerous stimuli (the process of nociception) influences future pain processing due to an intricate process between the central and peripheral nervous system. This is one of the factors that can influence the development of chronic pain. 


Pain is a very complicated beast, and in all honesty I wouldn't do it justice to try and explain it to you. However, if you're interested then have a look at this great article written by Paul Ingraham at 


Or if reading another article doesn't exactly thrill you, then take a look at this video of WhyThings Hurt by Lorimer Moseley. 



I'm not saying it's all in your head...


Please do not think that me saying that pain is only produced in the brain, is me trying to claim the pain you feel isn't real and is all in your head. Pain is a real experience and something we have all experienced. The message that I am trying to put out is;


Hurt doesn't always = harm.


There are a number of scenarios in which pain is caused, of which some are listed below. Please understand that this is not an exhaustive list.

  • Acute pain where the pain felt is relative to the injury or tissue damage

  • Acute pain that is out of proportion to tissue damage (like in the above story about the builder stepping on the nail)

  • Chronic pain where there has been a dysregulation in the pain processing pathway, leading to pain being out of proportion to tissue damage

  • Pain driven by mental illness such as hypochondria



So what does this mean for patients seeing an Osteopath?


For me, Osteopaths can play a great role in helping those in pain, chronic or acute. 

  1. Osteopaths can help assess and diagnose the cause of  pain - this sometimes is enough to help in the first place. Sometimes worrying about the cause of your symptoms is enough to make you feel worse...

  2. Your Osteopath should be able to help explain the mechanism of pain - this may go someway to at least helping understand why you've been experiencing any pain or symptoms

  3. You should receive a treatment plan that is tailored to you and will help in recovery from your symptoms - acute or chronic

  4. Treatment should help your body into a position of perceived safety, thus reducing the chance of 'danger sensation' that may lead to the development of painful symptoms

This isn't just the case for Osteopaths, but should be these case with all manual therapists and health care professionals. 





If you have any questions or would like to know any more about Osteopathy at Alpha Health then please give us a call on 020 8304 7237 or message us through one of our social media accounts (links at the bottom of the page).


Alternatively, find out if Osteopathy is suitable for you by booking in for a Free 15 Minute Consultation with us - Call 020 8304 7237 to book.








1) Fisher JP, Hassan DT, O’Connor N. Minerva. BMJ. 1995 Jan 7;310(70). 

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