Pain researcher Lorimer Moseley tells this story: he was hiking in the Australian Outback with friends, and felt something scratch his left ankle. It was painful enough to make him pull his leg away a little bit, but he just kept walking, figuring he’d scraped his ankle on a stick, and forgot about it – until he woke up two days later in the hospital. Doctors told him he’d been bitten by an eastern brown snake, and was lucky to be alive.
Dr. Moseley tells this story to illustrate how contextual our experience of pain is – even with a pretty severe injury, if the brain has reason to think it’s no big deal (ankles get scratched all the time, and it’s not dangerous), we probably won’t feel the sensation very strongly. Continue reading