But sometimes that warning system can go haywire, and chronic pain sets in. Like the headache or backache that just won't seem to go away and you can't figure out what's causing it. And finding treatment is difficult - because emotions, memory and expectations all influence chronic suffering.
Here are some truths about pain, courtesy of Psychology Today.
First: The "pain personality" is a myth. People with chronic pain are often presumed to be neurotic. But there's little research to support the idea of a "pain-prone" personality. According to Frank Keefe from Duke University Medical Center, if you treat pain, some of the personality factors that "supposedly" cause pain actually improve. In other words, pain might cause your grumpiness or anxiousness, rather than the other way around.
Next: You can worsen your partner's pain. Psychologists say people who respond to a loved one's every flinch and moan can make their pain worse. Constantly asking how a person is feeling can interfere with their efforts to distract themselves from the pain. This isn't to say that it's bad to help someone who's hurting. But in the case of chronic pain, diversion may be better than devotion.
And one last truth about chronic pain: Exercise may help work out the kinks. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that healthy students who exercised regularly showed an increase in the amount of pain and fatigue they felt when they QUIT working out for just one week. And if healthy people feel more pain when they don't exercise, researchers say long-term inactivity can really hurt people who are already in pain. Also, exercise may literally act as a painkiller by raising levels of dopamine a feel good brain chemical.
Experts say until there's a cure for chronic pain, understanding it can help you deal with it better.