Pathway of the pain: How do we feel pain?

Can brain surgery be performed awake without pain?

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Interesting to know if a brain surgery can be performed awake without pain. But, here you will not only be clear about this but also few other doubts will be cleared. This article will answer some interesting queries.

Do you know your brain does not have any pain receptor? Then why do we feel headache?

Why you react on an injury before you recognize it consciously?

Can a brain surgery be performed without anesthesia?

What is pain?

Pain is just a sensation to convey a simple message in the electric form of signal to the brain that something harmful happened in the particular area of body.

There are many types of signals. We will not go into that but will focus on the our topic. It’s important to understand the basic about pain. So, let’s quickly understand the pain pathway first.

Read also: Headache: causes, types and remedies

The pathway of the pain:

Pathway of the pain
Pathway of the pain: How do we feel pain? Info-graphic

Whenever you met with any injury, it causes damage to your tissue in that particular area of your body. This damage is then registered by pain fibers present in surrounding of the tissue area. These microscopic pain fibers are called as nociceptor.

So, if you see the structure of a neuron, the noceceptor receives this incident as a signal from one end of the nerve cell. Once the nociceptor is activated, it quickly sends that signal in electric form. The signal is first send to the spinal cord and not brain.

So, the dorsal horn of the spinal cord receives the signal through synapses of the neurons. This process occurs with the help of neuro transmitters.

Now, the pain signal goes in two ways, First a response signal sent to the damaged area by spinal cord and second the signal continues to the brain. Thalamus of the brain receives the signal.

Now, the signals are sent to the different parts of the brain for different functions like frontal cortex to think, somatosensory cortex for physical act, limbic system for emotions and many other things.

And finally, you feel the sensation of that pain. This all process occurs in fraction of seconds.

But did you notice why you usually react involuntarily before you aware about the pain. This happens because spinal cord sends a reflex response immediately before the pain signals reach to the brain.

So, this was a little basic idea about the pain pathway, that how do we feel it.

Now, the interesting thing is that your brain does not have any nociceptor.  But still you feel headache. Why?

Because, brain acts only as a receiver, but does not feel itself. When you feel a headache, this is because coverings of the brain (meningitis), bone (periosteum) and our scalp have the nociceptors.

These nociceptors sends the signals to the brain in same way as explained above, whenever these tissues suffers any kind of harmful injury due to any reason.

Brain surgery can be performed without anesthesia?

Of course, YES and this has been done in the past already. Just by giving local anaesthesia to the scalp and surrounding area any brain surgery can be performed. You can watch it here.

But, this is not performed every time. It depends on many circumstances. When surgeon need to know immediately what the effects of surgery are. The surgery can be stopped to prevent any serious damage. Read the full story here.

Vinay Dubey

A Health care professional and Pharmacologist with an aim of sharing my knowledge about health and lifestyle to everyone. Specially, I want to empower people from non medical background, with the knowledge that how daily lifestyle and medicines can affects their health. Also, to let them know how they can play an important role in the life cycle of a medicine.


  1. Very informative article.

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