Gary 'Smiler' Turner's Blog

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Thursday, 9 December 2010

Pain Killers

We often take pain killers for headaches, injuries, aches and pains. But have you ever wondered what pain killers actually do? They are not the same, and each has different affects on the body. And different side effects too.

If you haven’t read my previous blog posts on pain, please do so, as they explain the four sources of pain – learned behaviour, repressed emotions, risk of damage to tissue, and actual damage to tissue. It will provide some nice background reading to understand the remainder of this blog post a little better.

Most pain killers are designed to interrupt the process of nociception. That is, the nerve system that detects damage or risk of damage to tissue through the nociceptors (nerve endings), travelling up the body to the brain where pain is received.

Aspirin and ibuprofen shut the perception of pain down at their source. They stop the signal from reaching the nerves that transport the signal to the brain. They block the nociceptors from ever receiving the stimulus of damage or risk of damage. The nerve endings are blocked from receiving the signal. Aspirin and ibuprofen also are anti-inflammatory. Ibuprofen is considered as a safer alternative to aspirin with fewer side effects.

Paracetamol is still not fully understood. It works by inhibiting the signal of pain in the spinal cord and brain, severing a vital link in the chain of pain signalling. If the signal doesn’t reach the brain, there is no signal to create the perception of pain.

Opiates such as codeine and morphine again work by inhibiting the signal of pain in the spinal cord and brain, though through a different process. Their use prevents the signal of pain reaching the higher levels of the brain where pain is perceived. Therefore, no signal, no perception of pain.

There are many other ways of relieving ourselves of pain, many of which I have described in my previous blogs in respect to pain management. Drugs are just one option to take.

Monday, 6 December 2010


I’ve been having a chat with a friend who is neurologically minded. We’ve concurred that most people don’t understand our basic responses to a threat. In fact, even though I’ve trawled through hundreds of academic papers and studied numerous courses it is still hard to get definitive answers as to what happens, and why. So here’s a very brief breakdown, not complete, and just a generalisation, to give you a better understanding.

The freeze is the first reaction we have to a stimulus which may be perceived as a threat. Adrenaline is released throughout the brain which closes down unnecessary activity. The areas of the brain which stay alert are those based on orienting and focusing, like a spotlight on the stimulus. This provides unconscious attention – arousal, orientation and focus. Our attention is focused and orientated on the source of the stimulus to discover if it is a threat

If the threat is perceived, and then increases, we move onto the flight and fight response. Firstly we respond by flight, moving directly away from the source of the threat. As an extreme example this is where people can go into a blind panic, turn and run straight into a wall. If this doesn’t work we escalate through to fight, where we respond to fight off the perceived threat.

If this still isn’t perceived as protecting us from the threat we move to fear. This is a different kind of freeze than earlier, one where fear or terror grips us as we internalise in our minds, our bodies frozen. The emotions you can read on the face are quite different between freeze and fear.

And if fear still doesn’t release the threat then we faint, shutting down all but our life support systems. We drop to the floor.

So in summary we escalate our responses to a perceived threat. Working first from freeze, then to the fight and flight response, before fear, and lastly fainting. Our brain and body activities are different in each of the responses, and work in order.

If you take the time, like I have, to study each of these responses you can apply the knowledge to so many areas of daily life and work. For security, you will be able to perceive if a threat is imminent from a person. For negotiations you can identify whether you are inducing stress or providing relief in the person(s) you are negotiating with. For interrogation or police work you are better placed to identify if a subject is lying. And for fighters like me you can induce these responses in your opponents to exploit them for your own gain.