Part 1: A simplified version of a complex process
Think of the brain as being a computer. Each area of our body is represented in the cortex of the brain. Some areas, such as the hand and mouth have a larger representation than others, such as the shoulder or elbow.
‘Data’ from our body such as temperature, stretch, compression, sensation and joint position are filed and organised by their specific body region within the tissue of the brain. The brain can then compute what each part of the body is doing at any given time.
Once this 'data' has been received and processed the brain now has a picture of what that body part is doing. To further make sense of this information it communicates with other brain regions, to add context and analyse the bodies overall picture. For example; what is my current mood, emotional state, fatigue levels, prior experience of this body part and what can my memory centres associated with the current movement or task tell me?
The brains number one job is to keep you safe; maintain homeostasis. So the first priority is asking itself: does this position/movement/task pose me any threat right now?
If it considers the information threatening the brain creates a pain output back to the tissues and the person experiences pain. Importantly, pain sends us a signal that the body feels threatened, but pain does not equal damage.
Listen: "The brains role in pain" - A short audio file demonstrating pain as an output