Why do we hurt? What’s it good for? The surprisingly answer is that pain has helped us reach the top of our evolutionary path.
The word “pain” is derived from the Latin root poena: meaning punishment, a fine, a penalty. Pain is often associated with negative feelings, but it also has very important educational functions.
What Pain Tells You
Pain occurs for specific reasons. We experience pain because a potential or actual damaging action triggers special sensory nerve endings in the muscles, joints or skin. Neural impulses travel through the spinal cord and to the brain.
If the pain is acute, your automatic reaction will be to stop whatever you’re doing that is causing the pain. It’s reflexive and instantaneous.
That’s the evolutionary benefit of acute pain. It prevents the body from further injury by sending out an automatic “stop” response. When pain is chronic, however, you may simply decide to be more cautious with what you’re doing.
Three Specific Communications
Pain can be a warning signal. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have actually sustained an injury. It could be that you are engaged in an activity that could lead to an injury. It’s wise to pay attention to such warnings when they occur.
Pain can be a request for healing. Painful sensations caused by nerves allow the physical body to ask for help. If you feel pain, something’s not right. There’s a reason for the hurt and your body is trying to prevent you from ignoring a certain problem.
Pain can also be a signal to rest. It can be brought about by over-exertion or fatigue. A physical activity that causes pain may mean that your body is requesting a “time out” for a bit of recuperation.
In these ways, pain has served us as an evolutionary learning mechanism, providing the physical body a way to communicate as part of its natural defense system. Although pain may not feel good, in most circumstances it is definitely good for us, as long as we choose not to ignore the message being sent.
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