The brain is the organ responsible for processing pain, integrating information coming in through nerve endings, and interpreting these signals. Interestingly, however, the organ itself does not feel pain.
Pain is a vital signal that warns of injury or damage. It sets natural mechanisms in motion to counteract this.
The nociceptors are responsible for this. These are nerve endings that receive external and internal sensory information. They are at the end of the axons of sensory neurons and can transmit the signals to the brain. They can also relay information about mechanical, thermal or chemical lesions to the entire nervous system in tenths of a second.
Why doesn’t the brain feel pain?
Paradoxically, there are nociceptors in the brain, but the brain itself cannot feel pain. One advantage for human survival is that this enables neurosurgeons to operate the brain only under local anesthesia.
As a result, the patient can stay awake during the operation, which is great as they can confirm to the surgeon that everything is going well.
If you have a severe headache, you may feel that your brain is hurting or that it is about to “explode”. What you really feel, however, are the nerve tissue, the meninges, the blood vessels, and the muscles that surround the brain.
These elements, which all have nociceptors, can become inflamed, damaged or expanded. Hence, they send an alert to the brain that something is wrong, leading to widespread headaches. In cases of brain tumors or cerebral haemorrhage that cause pain, it doesn’t actually come from the brain. In fact, this pain comes from the pressure the condition puts on the surrounding blood vessels.
Brain pain and headache
In general, headaches are not a concern and are mainly caused by tension headaches, migraines, sinus infections or throat infections. However, the head can also be sore from a cold, flu, or other viral diseases that lead to changes in the blood supply or inflammation.
On the other hand, the pain can also be caused by other, more serious problems. Some of them are:
- An abnormal connection between the arteries and veins in the brain.
- A cardiovascular disorder that stops blood flow.
- Broken blood vessels or a brain aneurysm.
- A cerebral haemorrhage or an intracerebral hematoma.
- Bleeding in the brain area: subarachnoid hemorrhage, subdural or epidural hematoma.
- An acute water head or cerebrospinal fluid interruption.
- Very high blood pressure.
- An infection of the brain or nearby tissue.
When should you contact your doctor?
Since the brain does not feel pain, headache is the main symptom that indicates injury to this organ. However, as we know, not all headaches indicate something serious.
As a result, it’s important to distinguish when this pain is actually due to serious causes so that you can consult your doctor. Accordingly, medical help is required in the following cases:
- The pain interferes with your daily life.
- It becomes more noticeable after physical activity.
- Pain is sudden and explosive.
- The pain is associated with changes in eyesight, mobility, language, or memory.
- The pain worsens within 24 hours.
- It manifests itself among other symptoms such as fever, stiffness, and nausea.
- One eye is reddened.
- You have a history of cancer or a weakened immune system.
- The headache wakes you up and won’t let you go back to sleep.
In summary, we can say that when you have a headache you feel the tissues, vessels and muscles that surround the brain. As you can see, although the brain is responsible for processing pain, it is incapable of feeling the pain itself.
If your headache is atypical, you should see a doctor who can assess whether the pain is due to an injury to the tissue or the brain.