THE BIOLOGICAL PURPOSE OF PAIN FOR SOME NOTES ABOUT PAIN: THE NEED FOR SEVERE AND PROLONGED PAIN

We generally think of the sensation of pain as something we could well do without. When we are more thoughtful we can see the need for pain, but it still seems that pain as a warning sensation is much too severe and too prolonged. However, when we come to examine the situation more closely, we see that there is a reason for this. For instance, let us suppose that we burn our hand. The pain from the burn is sudden, intense, and severe. It overwhelms us and we immediately withdraw our hand. The pain is so intense that this reaction occurs automatically, quite beyond our control, and in the time of a split second. In this way the intensity of the pain causes the immediate withdrawal of our hand and so preserves it from further injury. We are not even given the chance to think about it. Thus, the severity of the pain is essential for its protective purpose. But the pain persists after we have withdrawn it from the flame, and is still so intense that we cannot even bear to touch the burnt area. This is again protective. By not touching it, we avoid bringing infection to the raw burn.

We sprain our ankle. The initial pain is so intense that we involuntarily fall to the ground, and our ankle is thus saved from further injury by immediately putting a stop to the stress which was tearing the ligaments. If we turn our foot in the direction of the twist there is an immediate recurrence of pain. So this movement is avoided and there is no further injury. This state of affairs persists for some days. The painful movement is avoided, and the torn ligaments are left undisturbed so that the process of repair can proceed in a way that would not be possible if the injured ankle was allowed pain-free movement.

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