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Waking up with a sore throat that really hurts when you swallow. Jamming your finger at basketball practice. Playing a video game for so long that your wrist aches. These situations are different, but they have one thing in common: They all make you say "ouch!"

When your body is injured in some way or something else is wrong, your nerves (cells that help your body send and receive information) send millions of messages to your brain about what's going on. Your brain then makes you feel pain. So if you put your hand on a hot stove, your nerves call your brain, and your brain sends the message that your hand hurts. You get this message and pull your hand away from the hot stove, which saves your hand from further injury.

People don't come with warning lights, like the lights on a car dashboard that let the driver know when the car is low on oil or gas. We need the sensation of pain to let us know when our bodies need extra care. It's an important signal.

When we sense pain, we pay attention to our bodies and can take steps to fix what hurts. Pain also may prevent us from injuring a body part even more. If it didn't hurt to walk on a broken leg, a person might keep using it and cause more damage. If your throat is really sore, you'll probably go to the doctor, who can treat the infection if you have one.

Doctors and other health professionals use a person's pain as a clue in figuring out what is wrong. Here are some questions a doctor may ask about pain:

  • Where does it hurt?
  • Does it hurt all the time?
  • When did it start hurting?
  • Does the pain stay in one place or move around?
  • Does anything make the pain feel better?
  • What makes it worse?

They ask these questions because they want what you want: for the pain to go away! If pain doesn't go away on its own, often a doctor can suggest medicine or other treatments that will make you feel better until it does.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: February 2007

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