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Why do we feel pain?


Why do we feel pain when we get hurt? What is pain? Why do we cry when we get hurt? Why do we say ow or ouch? We’re learning about how pain works with Joshua Pate. He’s a physical therapist and author of a forthcoming children’s book series about pain.

Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript

  • Pain happens when your body sends signals to your brain that something is wrong. And your brain sends signals to your body to feel pain! Pain is protective–it lets us know to stop doing something that is damaging or might damage our bodies. And it lets us know that something is wrong and we might need to get help from an adult or a medical provider.
  • When you get hurt, like scraping your knee for example, the nerve cells in the knee send a message to the brain. Your eyes might see the scraped knee and send another message to your brain. Then your brain has to decide how much danger your knee is in. Pain is messaging that lets your brain know that something is not well. If you didn’t have that pain, you might keep scraping your knee over and over. 
  • Pain is biopsychosocial, meaning biology, psychology and social or environmental factors all play a role in what pain feels like for individual people.
  • A lot of things can turn the feeling of pain up or down. Distraction, like listening to music or watching a video can help turn pain down. Staring at the source of pain can make it hurt more. 
  • Outside factors can also impact pain. In a study from several years ago, people were asked to hold a freezing cold rod. Scientists changed the colored lights in the room. When the lights were blue people felt less pain from the rod than when the lights were red.
  • Normally, pain will recede when an injury heals. But not for everyone. Sometimes people suffer from chronic pain after an injury. 
  • We cry when we’re in pain as a way of letting others know that something is wrong. We also learn to use the words ow or ouch. Other languages have different words for pain. 
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.

But Why is a project of Vermont Public.

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