Breaking Down the Complex Process of How Pain Works

Posted by Stephanie Labonville on Jul 20, 2016 9:30:00 AM


The word “pain” can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) thinks of pain as, “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.”

What is Pain?

Pain is a complex product of the brain that most people do not want to experience, however sometimes it has a purpose. For instance, touching a hot stove would leave incredible damage if it weren’t for the feeling of pain making the body aware to defend itself and remove immediately. 

There is an intricate connection between the mind and body when it comes to feeling pain. In fact, the National Pain Strategy states, “Chronic pain is a biopsychosocial condition” indicating that in addition to basic pain signaling associated with an injury, the perception of pain may be impacted by many things including biology (e.g., genetics), psychology (e.g., mood) and social factors (e.g., ability to socialize with friends or participate in hobbies).

Even when an injury heals, the brain may continue to send pain signals and how that happens can be pretty complex.

How Pain Works

One way to think about the process of becoming aware of pain is to think about pain signaling in 4 phases: transduction, transmission, modulation and perception.

  • Transduction is when pain is changed into a signal or information your nerves can use
  • Transmission is the movement of the pain signal or information toward the brain
  • Modulation is the way the body can decrease or increase pain-related signals
  • Perception is how you experience pain

How your brain perceives pain is where many different complex connections come into play, which is why treatment of pain can also be multifaceted and involve more than just medications. Whether living with chronic or acute, the identification and treatment of pain varies from person to person.

As the nation continues its effort on curbing the opioid epidemic, pain management techniques will also continue to evolve. IWP will soon be releasing a pain management resource for injured workers who are dealing with pain caused by an on the job injury.

International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP). Accessed 7/14/2016
Rodriguez L. Pathophysiology of pain: implications for perioperative nursing. AORN J 101, 338-344. 2015
The Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee. National Pain Strategy. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2016

Topics: Pharmacy, Pain Management