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The mysterious science of pain - Joshua W. Pate

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In 1995, the British Medical Journal published a report about a builder who accidentally jumped onto a nail, which pierced straight through his steel-toed boot. He was in such agonizing pain that any movement was unbearable. But when the doctors took off his boot, they discovered that the nail had never touched his foot at all. What’s going on? Joshua W. Pate investigates the experience of pain.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Joshua W. Pate
  • Director Igor Coric
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Animator Nemanja Petrovic
  • Sound Designer Nemanja Petrovic
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal, Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Eleanor Nelsen
  • Fact-checker Eden Girma
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Pain is really complex isn’t it?! The conceptual change in thinking from ‘pain means damage’ to ‘pain means danger’ to ‘pain means protection’ represents huge scientific advancement. Sometimes nociception gets confused as the sending of ‘pain signals’. It sounds like a fussy distinction to call them ‘danger signals’ instead, but it is really important. Pain is an experience that results after the brain has processed the nociceptive (danger/warning) information, along with lots of other information. For more information on this distinction, check out the book ‘Explain Pain’ by David Butler and Lorimer Moseley.

Researchers are improving understanding of mechanisms behind the persistence of pain. To dig deeper, why not have a read about central sensitization, mirror neurons, the placebo affect and nocebos?

To extend your understanding about the complexity of pain, watch this video about the map in your brain.

If you are a health professional, you may like to have a read of Explain Pain Supercharged – this resource contains up-to-date science about understanding pain and the practicalities of teaching people about it.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Joshua W. Pate
  • Director Igor Coric
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Animator Nemanja Petrovic
  • Sound Designer Nemanja Petrovic
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal, Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Eleanor Nelsen
  • Fact-checker Eden Girma
  • See more