Woman standing in a sand dune holding her head in her hands

What Happens If We Do Not Experience Pain?


Totally random title to a blog post… but something that I came across the other day whilst listening to a podcast. They were talking about how the absence of pain is not necessarily something positive. I thought this was quite interesting and so I wanted to dive a bit deeper into the research as to what happens if we do not experience pain.

Man holding his back
Photo by Sam Burriss on Unsplash

What Is Pain?

Let us start by exploring what pain actually is. Humans experience pain when nerves in the body, so-called nociceptors, notice damage to tissue. Once this damage has been noticed, the message is transferred via the spinal cord to the brain. Pain is our signal that something is wrong with our bodies and that we need to give it attention.

Woman holding head with her hands with the sun shining in the back
Photo by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

Why Do We Feel Pain?

First and foremost, pain is felt in order to protect us from danger. But, there is a very interesting second element to it. This is that pain makes us feel more sympathetic and kind. Without pain, the human population would likely be largely decreased because a lot of health problems and challenges would have gone unnoticed. We likely would also not be as evolved as we are today, because our mental growth would have been staggered. Now, whereas I am the first one who does not want to see anyone in pain – either from a mental or physical perspective (albeit we are talking about the physical form today) – I did find this fact from a scientific perspective quite fascinating.

You might be (just like I was) thinking that you understand the physical protection from danger part, but perhaps not the emotional element attached to it. Let me use the example of falling. So, I might fall and break my leg. I would then continue to use said broken leg because I cannot feel the pain. This, in turn, means that I am inflicting more damage. The emotional element is someone helping me up and feeling compassion because they know how it feels to hurt themselves.

A lamp standing on national georgraphics on a stone background
Photo by Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash

What Happens If We Do Not Experience Pain?

If we did not experience pain, we would not have this kindness and compassion towards other people. In fact, absence of pain would likely make us apathetic, fearless, silly, and in that context, a lot more vulnerable. A rare genetic subset of people does not experience pain. This condition is called congenital insensitivity. Congenital insensitivity is a very rare condition. There are only about 20 people that have been recorded in the entire of research literature so far.

What Causes Congenital Insensitivity?

Basically, it is a mutation in our genes. The nociceptors that we discussed above (that transmit pain signals to the spinal cord and brain) contain a sodium channel, which transports sodium atoms into cells. This is necessary in order for the nociceptor to generate and transmit electrical signals. The gene mutation basically inhibits the building of the channel and, therefore, pain cannot be signaled to the brain. Interestingly, this channel is also used for our smell. Therefore, people who experience a limitation or no pain also oftentimes cannot send smell-related signals to their brain.

A plug lying on a wooden floor
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The Impact of Congenital Insensitivity

Unfortunately, people who cannot experience pain tend to die incredibly young. This is due to their injuries oftentimes going unnoticed (and untreated). It is also due to them, as described above, not being able to notice something wrong with their bodies, and living a lot more reckless and dangerously.

I am very conscious that this was a completely random post and topic. Personally, I found it fascinating and so I thought I would share it with you. I hope you enjoyed this new insight and perhaps learned a thing or two (just like I did 😉). Beautiful cover photo by by averie woodard on Unsplash.

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