How The Brain Shapes Pain And Links Ouch With Emotion

The ouch part of pain begins when something — heat, certain chemicals or a mechanical force — activates special nerve endings called nociceptors.

"Once they are activated, they trigger a whole cascade of events with kind of a representation of that signal going through your nerves and into your spinal cord and then all the way up to your brain," Davis says.

And that's when things get really complex.

Pain signals interact with many different brain areas, including those involved in physical sensation, thinking and emotion.

"There's quite a pattern of activity that permeates through the brain that leads to all the complexities of what we feel associated with that initial hurt," Davis says.

All that processing can have benefits, she says, like sometimes allowing us to ignore pain signals.

Article written by Jon Hamilton