Part Three: The Alarm System

Karlyn Driedger PT, BScKin, MScPT, CIDN

Clinic Director
Registered Physiotherapist
Pelvic Health Physiotherapist

Pain is our body’s alarm system. Pain is produced by our brains (100% of the time), when it interprets information from various sources as dangerous. The interpretation and processing is done subconsciously — we are not aware of it and we can’t interfere with it. If our brain decides a warning is necessary, the alarm sounds, and we feel pain.

A few key things about this alarm system:

  1. The volume of the alarm does not indicate the severity of the danger. Fire alarms sound the same, regardless of whether or not the building is burning down or there is a bit of smoke rising from your toaster. The same thing is true with pain — the severity of the pain we feel does not correlate with the severity of danger or injury. How much do paper-cuts hurt?!?
  2. The alarm system can become more sensitive, meaning it takes less of a stimulus to provoke a response. After an injury, this sensitivity can help us protect an area of our body while it heals. Once something has healed, however, this sensitivity is less helpful, but it can stick around.
  3. Sometimes alarms go off without any danger at all, or the alarm persists even after the danger is gone. When the alarm continues to sound even though the fire has been extinguished.. the problem is with the alarm system itself.

The Alarm System Here’s the good news: if you experience persistent pain after an injury, it does not mean that your injury is not healing. Although you can’t change how your brain processes information and produces pain just by thinking about it — there are lots of things you can do to decrease the sensitivity of your alarm system and turn down the volume of your pain. Stay tuned!