We are surrounded by substances our bodies do not like and could cause harm.  These substances can be in the air we breath, the food we eat, the water we drink or the things we touch.   Examples include carbon monoxide, chemicals used to treat water, additives in foods, varnishes we use to treat wood, etc.  These substances exist in trace quantities but nevertheless are toxic to our bodies.  Toxicity is not an advent of modern living although it has vastly increased our exposure to it.  Fortunately the body has developed ways of dealing with it.

Our skin provides the first barrier.  The skin is a tightly knit barrier colonised by bacteria and covered in an oily substance which contains immune cells.  All of these attributes contribute to keeping the toxins out.  This why we can have paint, glue and even use strong substances like white spirit on our skin without getting sick.

If the toxins get through this barrier, i.e. if we ingest or breath them in then the next line of defence is our liver.  Here the liver acts as a detoxifier.  It shifts through what is in the blood separating it into bad and good.   Those that are bad are reacted with other chemicals to nullify their toxicity.  It is then sent to a number of places, either:

  • The intestines for removal via our stools,
  • The bladder for removal via our urine,
  • The skin for removal via our sweat,

If the 3 routes of disposal are jam packed then the body has no choice but to store it.  It does this within the fat cells of the body. The fat cells acts as an insulating container.

Where we must be careful is that like any containment system, things degrade.  The nullified toxins degrade as does the fat cells and so as time goes by the chances of a leak increases.  We must also acknowledge that the amount of expose to toxins is continually increasing as our technological advancements and our effect on the climate increases.  Therefore the risk of overload and greater storage increases.

The simplest way to mitigate against toxic overload is to limit your exposure to chemicals.  Wearing gloves when handling household cleaning products and cleaning in well ventilated rooms, minimising process foods, filtering water, wearing gloves and masks when performing DIY tasks, performing leisure activities in rural areas (e.g. a run by the roadside is not as healthy as we think.  Think of all the toxins we are inhaling), etc.  These are all simple ways we can reduce our toxicity levels and increase the likelihood of a healthier later life.

Neural Circuits

In this article we are providing you with an easy to understand description of the most complex computer in the world, your nervous system. Extracts have been taken from Susan Greenfield’s book, Mind Change, ISBN 978846044304. Her description of the nervous system captures the simplicity yet complexity wrapped in an easy to understand analogy.

The two extract below capture a) how the nervous system is organised and b) how the nervous communicate with one another. So please read on, you will not be disappointed…

To get an idea of how the brain is put together, think of a busy city like Peterborough (Susan used New York, but Peterborough is closer!); the anatomically distinct brain regions would correspond to boroughs, within which would be districts then neighbourhoods – in brain terms, smaller and smaller groups of cells. By the time we arrive at a block, street or line of houses, we are at the basic unit of neuronal communication; the individual gap (the synapse) between any one brain cell and another. And the house on the street? That would be the neuron itself, the rooms within it are the organelles, literally the little organs that keep a brain cell alive. (2014, pg 50)

Rooms and houses change over time, representing the tastes and activities of the residences (i.e. the environment). Your organelles and therefore the neurons are no different and change in accordance to their environment. Their environment is governed by your actions, choices and the external environment you live in. Consequentially, your brain regions are continually changing in response to your actions, choices and environment. This changing terrain is called plasticity and governs your ability to learn and adapt.

There is a physical space between one neuron and another which Susan defined as the street or spaces between houses. These spaces are where neurons talk to each other, just like we do. Susan please continue…

Neurons are the basic unit of the brain, just as a person is the basic unit of an organisation or society. Like a person, a neuron is generic, and yet at the same time an individual entity. A person changes gradually over time, and a neuron will also adapt, show plasticity. A neuron gradually makes connections via a small gap (a synapse) using an intermediary, a chemical messenger (a transmitter); actually direct physical contact is possible but features less. Similarly, a person gradually builds relations with others by indirect contact via a language; touching is rarer. With both chemical messengers and languages there’s enormous diversity but an adherence to the same common principle: communication between two independent entities without any direct physical connection. Both languages and transmitters come in a wide range of varieties, but they can be categorised into families, defined by geographical provenance (for language) or chemical structures (for a transmitter) respectively. The actual mode of communication in both cases has parallels in that all languages and transmitters can use simple signals through to complex and sophisticated ones. (2014, pg 51)

We hope this has provided a useful insights into how you work.

Arterial System

Let’s take a journey through our vascular system and appreciating its ingenious design as we go along.

The vascular system consists of two interacting systems. The transportation of blood to the cells from the heart, via the arterial system and the transportation of blood back to the heart from the cells via the venous system. The movement of blood is created by the heart which is essentially a pump. When it contracts its pushes a significant volume of blood into the arterial system. Here we encounter our first problem, turbulent flow.

Blood is being pushed from the expansive chamber of the heart into a relatively narrow blood vessel (the artery). imagine an emergency evacuation of a crowded area through a door, its chaos or in this case turbulent flow. Thus, unless something is done, it will crash and bang its way down the artery. This is undesirable for two reasons:

  1. It is not energy efficient as each bang against the side will waste energy [think the extra force required to hit a squash ball to the main wall via 2 walls as opposed to directly]. This means it will not travel very far before it loses its forward momentum and stops flowing foward. Obviously, not the best situation for the cells further away from the heart.
  2. The trauma from the high energy multi-directional fluid hitting the artery wall will lead to dents and erosion of the inner lining. This can cause a range of problems later in life and it is one of the causes of hypertension. Therefore, the body wants to minimise the effect of this as much as possible.

The body thus this by simply making the artery walls slightly elastic and thus expandable. As the high energy turbulent fluid enters the artery, it’s walls expand just enough to absorb some energy. This calms fluid movement down reducing the multiple directional movement to a more singular direction, termed laminar flow. Therefore, the banging against the inner lining is significantly reduced and also its damage.

The laminar flow of blood travelling in the artery will soon come across a number of branches or tributaries. The best visualisation of the arterial system is to think of our water-ways bring the water from our coasts to the depths of inner lands. As the water flows inwards, the tributaries get narrower and narrower. The same is true of our arterial system. The question is why? The answer is the same for both our water-ways and arterial system. As fluid moves further away from its source, it loses energy and therefore slows down. If we pass that same volume of fluid through an ever decreasing diameter vessel, we can off-set this speed reduction and make it travel further thus ensuring it reaches its destination, the cell.

So to recap, the elastic nature of the arteries and the ever decreasing diameter of the blood vessels ensures the blood can travel as far as possible in order to reach the furthest cells. Now, the next problem is the demanding nature of the cells. They are fussy. Sometimes they are working hard and what more blood, other times they are recuperating and what little blood. Unfortunately, they are not accommodating, if they do not get the right quantities immediately they complain and we the organise suffer. So the arterial system has to be alert and responsive to their demands.

To meet these demands, the arterial system must have control of the vessel diameters because we know the diameter of the vessel controls the rate of flow of blood. Now the arteries role has already been assigned, as they are given elastic walls to absorb energy and create a steady blood flow. The arterioles (note the difference in spelling) are given this role. Their outer walls are composed primarily of muscle. The contraction of these muscles reduces the diameter of the arterioles and thus increases the flow. The control of these muscles involves a complex interaction of the nervous system, hormonal (endocrine) system and local signalling molecules within the arterial system. All of which monitor and communicate with the cells and help ensure their health.

Why water?

Imagine this scenario. You are lost in the dessert and spend the day wondering around aimlessly in the hot sun with no food or drink. Fortunately at dusk you stumble across a settlement. What is the first thing you will ask for on arrival? Water, not tea, coke or other stereo-typically flavoursome beverage. The body can survive a few weeks without food, but only a few days without pure water.

There are a number of properties that makes water indispensable for human life. The first is that it is a strong fluid. This is due to its polar nature. A polar molecule is one that has a slightly positive and negatively charged ends. This means that if you put lots of water molecules together, they arrange themselves in a manner where the positive end of one is facing the negative end of another. This creates an attraction force called hydrogen bonding. This attraction force alongside the bonding within the water molecule itself is what stops one water molecule being pulled or pushed away from its neighbour. We therefore say water has a high surface tension and explains why a 50 tonne boat can float on water! Water is within and surrounds all our cells and having a high surface tension provides a resistance to all the compressive forces placed on our bodies.

Secondly, water is a strong polar substance. So when we add a weaker polar compound (let’s say salt [sodium chloride denoted NaCl]) it attracts the opposite ends of the salt molecule (in a similar manner to the formation of hydrogen bonding described above). The strength of the attraction, between the positive part of the water molecule and the negative part of the salt molecule, rips the salt apart into its base components. The process we have described is dissolution and is what allows our bodies to break compounds down and recycle them into more useful products for our cells.

Thirdly, water is great at helping our bodies regulate itself. It prevents large swings in acidity / alkalinity in our blood as well as helping us regulate our body temperature. Our cells are very sensitive to change, they have narrow operating parameters and if we fall outside of the operating window they malfunction. As an example, if our body temperature rises by just 1.5oC we become feverish!

Water regulates our temperature because it has both a high specific heat capacity and a high heat of vaporisation. Simply put, water requires a lot of energy to heat up and to evaporate. An average human can tolerate a 0.5oC body temperature rise before we initiation cooling methods such as sweating, seeking shade, etc. Not much really. But if we have a fluid inside of us which can absorb a large amount of energy before it shows signs of heating we can survive. This is why our bodies crave water in warmer weather, it’s our cooling blanket.

Water is also an integral part of our second defence against overheating, sweating. As sweat forms a thin film over our skin it contacts the heat energy from the environment first. The film acts as a heat sink, absorbing the energy until it evaporates. The more energy it can absorb the less energy penetrates into the body. The less energy penetrating our bodies the cooler we remain.
It is for these reasons that staying hydrated is so important. Our bodies crave water not tea, coffee, squash, alcohol, etc. Why give it an inferior substitute when water is easily available and cheap. Various studies from across the globe estimate that between 50 – 75% of the population are dehydrated! This is crazy when water comes out of our taps! Anyway, we hope this article has gone some way towards convincing you to swap that mug of tea for a glass of water.

Light adaptation

It is something amazing our body does constantly without ever getting credit for it. The system we are referring to (and shall get due credit today) is our eyes ability to adapt to light and darkness.

As always, let’s go back to basics and run through the how the eye works. The eye lets in light via a varying sized hole termed the pupil. Once light enters, it travels through the eyeball until it hits the back which is filled with two types of receptors termed photoreceptors . You may have come across these receptors termed rods and cones. Both photoreceptors [rods and cones] contain a pigment (termed photopigment) which is made from vitamin A and a protein. When a particle of light hits the vitamin A it causes its structure to change shape. This shape change induces an electric charge which travels down the optic nerve before being relayed to various parts of your brain. The brain then interrupts the signal into an image.

Too little light and the photoreceptors fail to create the signal and too much light means that there are too many signals being created which overstimulates the brain. The consequence of this are all to clear when we talk about being ‘blinded by the light’. So how does the body regulate this? It’s very simply really but the beauty lies in the simplicity. The body controls;

  1. the amount of light entering your eyes, and
  2. the sensitivity of the nerves to the light.

Light entering your eyes stimulates the pupil reflex, an involuntary action on which the pupil size alters in relation to the amount of light. The brighter the light, the small the pupil will shrink thus making the inlet of light into the eye smaller. Therefore less light enters the eye.

In darkness the reverse occurs, because we want to capture as much light as possible. Once the light arrives, the optic nerve can ramp up/down its sensitivity (I.e. It’s acknowledgement ) of the signal created by the photopigments. This process however takes time as the nerve has to reorganise itself. Moving from a dark to bright [light adaptation] environment means the nerves downgrade their sensitivity to counteract the many signals created from the vitamin A changing shape. The process takes approximately 4-9mins. This is why we are initially blinded by the light but quickly recover our visual fields after a few minutes.

When moving the opposite way, light to dark [dark adaptation] our nerves become more sensitivity to accommodate the scarcity of signals. This process takes longer to adapt to, approximately 30mins. This explains why we fumble in the dark for so long when we wake up in the middle of the night!

Hormonal Control

Are we in control of our hormones or do our hormones control us?  A difficult question and one we shall endeavour to answer this month.

Hormones are produced in response to a certain event either outside or within the body.  For example seeing your daughter get married triggers happiness via the release of the serotonin hormone or eating causes the increase in blood sugar levels which in turn causes the release of the insulin hormone.

The purpose of hormones are either:

  • to enhances our interaction with the event as serotonin does in the above example, or
  • to counteract the event as with insulin in the above example.

As a general rule, hormones that elicit emotional / behavioural changes tend to enhance the event.  Hormones involved in controlling our internal environment tend to counteract the event   This is because in the body we want to maintain a fairly constant state, a status quo as it were.  Thus any derivation from this and our body reacts against it in order to re-establish status quo.  Our emotions/behaviours are triggered for a purpose or so our body thinks.  If we are happy, it is because something or some event has made us happy and therefore the body feels this is the way we should be feeling at that time.  So it enhances it.  The same is true for other emotions such as sadness, fear, anxiety, anger, contentment, etc.

So as the event continues [either the marriage day or our eating] the greater the concentration of that hormone in our blood.  The emotional urge or the outcome becomes harder and harder to resist.  The hormones are now in control hence why sometimes we can not stop crying or laughing despite our environment telling us we should stop.

So how do we regain control?  In one of two ways.  Either;

1) the emotion creates a status within the body that goes further and further from the status quo.  At some threshold the internal processes (including other hormones) are activated that are aimed at returning status quo, i.e. stopping the emotion.  Take the example of laughing uncontrollably.  This will cause a blood pressure rise and because our breathing is disturbed it affects the amount of carbon dioxide in our blood stream.  Our blood becomes more and more acidic whilst our blood pressure rises the longer we laugh.  At some point, the acidity and pressure stray too far from the status quo activating our internal process.  These process retake control of our breathing slowing it down and thus interrupting our laughter.

2) By a strong distraction, i.e. another event.  The classic comical example is a loving slap across the face when we are hysterical.  The slap creates a distraction event, in this case pain.  The pain causes its own response which disrupts the hormones control over us.

So the answer is:

Hormones within the body largely have control.  However outside the body they are constantly exerting their presence.  Complete control will only be shorted lived. 

Wound Healing

Irrelevant of where the wound is (i.e. a cut, tendon strain, torn muscle/ligament, etc) the process of healing is the same. In this article we will explore the wonders of how your body repairs itself. Understanding how the body heals will help you manage your injuries better leading to optimal recovery times.

The Event
This could be anything, from a trauma, to a sudden movement. The key point here is that a tissue is damaged. As blood / lymphatic vessels and nerves live very close to all tissues, it is likely that these will be damaged too.

The Plug
When tissues are damaged, they will tear blood vessels (in most cases tiny vessels called capillaries) thus allowing blood to escape. If this is not dealt with quickly we will see unabandanted swelling in the area. Within our blood live some cells called platelets. Normally, these remain dissolved in the blood, however when they come into contact with damaged blood vessels, they become insoluble and sticky. They stick together forming a net which catches all the other substances floating in the blood. In a short space of time, the net has caught enough substances to create a blockage, hence plugging the torn blood vessel and stopping any further blood loss.

The plug, creates a blockage and thus a back pressure. This combined with various chemicals released by the damaged tissues, causes the local blood vessels to expand (i.e. dialate). As the vessels expand, their walls become porous to certain cells allowing them to migrate through the vessel walls and onto the damaged site.

How do they know where to go, well the damaged tissue releases various markers which guide them, a bit like a whistle or flare we use when we are stranded in open water. The cells consist of white blood cells (called leukocytes), various growth hormones (called interlukens) and chemicals that promote further inflammation and pain.

Why create pain you may ask? Well, if it does not hurt, how do you know it is damaged? We need pain so we can acknowledge the damage and then change our activities to a) stop it getting worse and b) allow it to heal. The release of these cells comes with the release of water, hence we see swelling.

The scab
We use the word scab as it is familiar to us all, as we have all seen one. However, what we have seen following a skin wound is simply a dried up version of what happens inside us. The correct term is granulation tissue because it looks grainy.

The granulation tissue is a general mixture of pre-mature tissue and temporary blood vessels. Both grow into the area because of the release of those growth hormones mentioned earlier. We need the extra temporary blood vessels to feed the new growing tissue.

The tissue acts as a filler, plugging the gap within the wound. Meanwhile the cells at the peripheriy of the wound, will multiple inwards thereby pulling the two ends together. So now, we have the hole in the middle of the wound being filled as well as the two ends being pulled together, just like when we are pulling the two ends together of a torn piece of clothing prior to stitching.

Unfortunately, the more complex structures (e.g. glands, contractile tissue) are difficult to replicate and are usually lost. This is why repaired tissue is not as strong or as functional as its original. E.g. Repaired skin lesions will rarely have hair and sweat glands.

Once everything is in place, the body can then take its time to reorganise everything into an optimal position. This process is the longest step to recovery, taking anywhere between 1 to 24months. Thus it is important to return to activity gradually.

Ultimately wound healing is a repair process implying that the body is try to fashion a tissue of a similar quality but not an exact replica of the original. Therefore, the replacement tissue will not be 100% as strong as the original, but the body will try and get as close to 100% as it can. Invariably the older we are and the more health problems we face, the further from 100% we will be. However, the vast majority will be above 80%, that is how clever our bodies are.

Factors Affecting Wound Healing

‘Are there any factors that can speed up or slow down the process of wound healing?’

Unfortunately we can not speed the process up but there many ways we can slow it down by creating hurdles to healing. Essentially, doing the wrong things that work against the body. This article will highlight those hurdles and also give you clues on how to reduce their impact.

Hurdles to wound healing

The 1st Hurdle – Sleep and Rest
In today’s modern world we are encouraged to work / play hard and resting little. The downside to this strategy is that the main set of hormones involved in tissue regeneration / repair (termed growth hormones) are most abundant during sleep. These compounds promote healing by encouraging our cells to make new tissue. They work by binding to the outside of the cell and awakening various chemical reactions in the cell that make proteins. Proteins are the building blocks of all our tissues, therefore more protein equals more tissue.

The 2nd Hurdle – Stress
The term stress simply means a challenging situation for body be it physical or mental. Examples include physical stress from injury or illness, fear stress from our perception of pain and/or its consequence and healing stress. Healing stress occurs when we get frustrated because we are not healing at the rate we expected. The question here is, are our expectations realistic? If we expect a 2 year problem to be resolved within a week it is highly likely we will get frustrated even if we see a 50% improvement over 3 weeks! This frustration is not helpful to healing because stress, irrelevant of its form, suppresses healing. Below we outline how.

Cortisol is the main hormone released during stressful situations. It reduces the effectiveness of our immune system, raises our blood pressure by constricting our arteries and reduces the production of growth hormones. We have described [last month] how our immune cells are required for processing the debris produced during tissue damage; how our blood flow is important in bring nutrients into the area as well as removing waste products; and the role of growth hormones in regenerating tissues. If cortisol suppresses these hormones then invariably wound healing will be slower. Hence stress is not conducive to optimum healing.

The 3rd Hurdle – Social interaction
Oxytocin is a hormone that is famous for its production during child birth. It has many other roles, which we are just discovering. Two of its newly discovered roles are:

– it is produced during social interaction,
– it suppresses the release of the stress hormone (cortisol).

Cortisol suppresses wound healing as outlined above. Therefore, if social interaction suppresses cortisol via the release of oxytocin, then social interaction promotes wound healing. When we are in pain, we often lock ourselves away however these new findings tell us to unlock ourselves.

The 4th Hurdle – Adaptation
Injuries range from short term (a few days) to long term (months even years) dependent on the type of injury, what tissue and how bad. Especially with long term injuries, it can be difficult to endure the healing process. It requires adjusting to a new reality, modifying activities and even adjusting your short term goals.

Not accepting this temporarily transition period is a common cause of impeding the healing process.

The 5th Hurdle – Nutrition
Wound healing is a challenging time for the body and thus the body’s demand for energy and particular nutrients (including water) increases. Should we fail to supply our body’s with this energy (or the correct nutrients) can we expect our wounds to heal? We would not expect ourselves to win an athletic event without eating healthy so why do we think differently about wound healing?

To highlight the type of nutrients required and thus the food groups needed would be a long and exhaustive list. We would rather give a few simple guidelines to follow:

1) eat natural healthy food, including all groups. E.g. Carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits, meats, etc),
2) drink plenty of water, as the body consumes a lot of water during healing,
3) avoid process foods or unhealthy foods (as it is difficult for the body to extract the nutrients it needs from them, while most contain very little nutrients!),
4) do not miss a meal

Those are the main hurdles to healing. Reduce or even eliminate these and you can be assured that your body will solve the problem to the best of its ability and in the shortest time.

Evolutionary fat

It is always a controversial topic, but let forget our animosity towards fat for a moment and consider a) why it exists and b) why does its location vary between sexes.

Why does it exist?

Fat has to have a purpose, otherwise why have it? There are four main reasons:

1) Storage of energy and nutrients to help us during times of hardship. A fairly well known concept.
2) Protection by creating a soft coating around our organs it absorbs shock associated with our everyday impacts (e.g. missing a step, bumping into a wall, etc) as well as the extraordinary events such as falls or blows.
3) Buoyancy to help keep us a float in water. Human have always lived near water and therefore swimming / fishing has always been a part of our life. This is why most professional swimmers do not look as muscular as other athletes, because they have and need more fat to help them float.
4) Insulation due to its location immediately under our skin (called subcutaneous fat) and it’s poor conduction of heat. In the modern world however, it’s insulating role is becoming more redundant with the development of clothes, central heating, air condition, etc.

Why does it exist where it does?
There is no definitive answer, however all current theories relate back to our ancestry. This is because our modern existence makes up a very small percentage of our life on this planet. Thus our bodies are still programmed for the “old way” of living.

The male pot belly
Humans used to live a hunter gathers life and it was the job of the males to hunt, climb and fight. Hence, the chance for an impact was much higher (be it a fall, a blow from a tree, or a fight with an animal or another human). The abdomen, chest and pelvis are all areas that contain our organs, thus they need protection. The chest and pelvis have that via our skeleton, i.e. the ribs and pelvic bones respectively. The abdomen however is relatively exposed. Therefore it makes protective sense for our males to grow fat in this area as it acts as a pseudo-shield around our abdominal organs.

Another advantage of abdominal fat is that it’s very close to our body’s centre of gravity. As hunters, fighters and climbers it was important that males were mobile and nimble. By placing fat near our centre of gravity dramatically reduces its impact on our mobility and positivity influences our stability.

Female buttocks and thighs
So why not use the same approach with females? Well it all comes down to perception and looks. If females were to have fat predominantly stored in their abdomen, it may give the impression they were pregnant. This for obvious reasons would put off a potential mate.

Females still needed to store fat and be nimble. Therefore, the location of the fat still needed to be close to their centre of gravity. The answer was the next closest place, i.e. the buttocks and thighs. Again, this had the added benefit of acting as a stabiliser.

So there you have it, who is to say that fat is all bad. Evolution certainly does not.


Breathing rhythm

We all understand breathing involves taking in oxygen, but is that its only role? Interestingly the answer is no.

Removing carbon dioxide
Our breathing rate is determined by our need to remove carbon dioxide from our bodies not our need for oxygen. Our blood always contains excess oxygen such that we only use a small proportion during our daily activities. However the accumulation of waste gases produced by our cells (e.g. carbon dioxide) is something we can not tolerate as it makes our blood more acidic. Breathing removes carbon dioxide thus our breathing rate is dependent on how much we need to remove.

Returning blood back to our hearts
Interestingly breathing is the second most important reason (the first is obviously the heart) for our blood flow. If it was not for breathing our blood would form pools in our legs! The heart pushes the blood around the body, whilst breathing sucks the blood back up. Breathing achieves this by creating pressure differentials in the body, in a similar fashion to how we suck fluid up through a straw.

Strengthening heart beats
The heart is securely fastened within the ribcage via various attachments to the surrounding skeletal and muscular structures. One of these structures is the diaphragm. When the diaphragm moves (i.e. descends during breathing) it pulls the bottom part of the heart with it. Therefore the chambers of the heart get stretched which makes the contraction stronger.

Mobilising our organs
Directly beneath our diaphragm are our abdominal organs (e.g. stomach, liver, etc). Therefore if our diaphragm descends and rises at a set frequency (i.e. breathing) it creates a rhythmical wave which travels through our organs. This motion maintains our organs mobility and hence health.

Behavioural breathing is how our breathing responds to changes in our emotions, e.g. when we are nervous, angry, etc. The reverse is also true, i.e. breathing can alter our emotions. A good example is when parents instruct their upset children to take deep breaths in an attempt to calm them down. It is this link between breathing and emotion which the parents are using.

Pain modulation

Pain is a feeling just like touch. It arises when a certain sensory nerve termed noiceptors (i.e. pain receptors) are activated. In the same way, mechanoceptors (mechanical touch receptors) enable us to feel the pressure of an object on our skin. The pain receptors can be activated in 3 ways:

  1. Compression – when an internal (e.g. a muscle) or external (e.g. a garden slab) object places a mechanical pressure on the pain receptor.
  2. Chemical – the release of specific chemicals within the body. These are commonly associated with inflammation which is created when there is cellular damage.
  3. Ischemic – the reduction in blood flow to the receptor. This affects its overall health and therefore it becomes activated.

Once registered the signal is sent through to our higher centres (our brain) where it is enhanced or diminished. This is determined by our:

  • Emotion at the time,
  • Fears attached to the pain (e.g. if we are fearful that the chest pain is part of a heart attack it will feel more painful than if we know it is just wind!)
  • What is happening around us (e.g. if you sprain your ankle whilst looking after a young child it will be less painful then if you are out with your friends.
  • Past experiences with pain (e.g. rugby players or builders/ farmers can be good at dealing with physical pain because they experience it regularly. However they may respond very differently if they have a problem with their internal organs).

So remember pain is controllable. To keep it to its absolute minimum remain positive, create constructive surroundings and do not fear it but understand it.