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What Is the Connection between Endorphins and Pain?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 02 September 2016
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Scientists believe that endorphins and pain are connected because the body releases endorphins to help combat the effects of physical pain and stress. These neurotransmitters have an effect on the brain that is often compared to that of morphine or other opiate drugs, in that endorphins and opiate drugs affect the same receptors in the brain. Endorphins and pain are connected because pain can cause the release of endorphins in the brain, but other activities are also believed to release endorphins. Laughter, physical contact with loved ones, sex, childbirth, strenuous exercise, and eating certain foods are also believed to cause the release of endorphins. Experts believe that endorphins can help people bond with one another, overcome physical and mental fatigue, and cope with extreme pain.

Not everyone releases the same amounts of endorphins with the same amounts of stimulus. Of all possible stimuli for the release of these neurotransmitters, endorphins and pain are usually most strongly linked. It is believed that the primary function of endorphins is to attach themselves to the brain's opioid receptors, dampening feelings of physical pain. At the same time, endorphins can also enhance feelings of well-being and pleasure. They typically do this by stifling neural activity in the cerebral cortex and thalamus regions of the brain. These regions of the brain are considered responsible for registering feelings of physical pain, so that when activity there is diminished, levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine rise in the area.

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The brain's release of endorphins can cause feelings of calm and euphoria. Immunity may be strengthened, appetite may change, and the hormones that regulate sex drive may become more balanced. The connection between endorphins and pain has been implicated in several well-known phenomena, including the mother's ability to endure the pain of childbirth and the feelings of well-being one may experience after strenuous physical exercise.

Many experts believe that the connection between endorphins and pain, laughter, sex, and other types of stimuli can cause some people to become addicted to the rush of endorphins that can occur with these activities. This may be why many people pursue exercise or sex obsessively. Eating spicy foods or certain sweets like chocolate can cause the brain to release endorphins, which may help to explain the popularity of these foods. It is believed that the addictive nature of opiate drugs, as well as their pain-relieving abilities, can be chalked up to the mechanism by which they work in the brain, since they affect the same neural receptors as endorphins.

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turquoise
Post 3

I've read that some people suffer from a disorder where they are addicted to self-injury. Are they injuring themselves to feel the euphoria that endorphins cause when they are in pain?

ysmina
Post 2

@ddljohn-- As far as I know, endorphins are released immediately after injury so that less pain is felt.

When we are injured, nerves send a message to the spinal cord and brain that the body is feeling pain. This happens very quickly, within moments. As soon as the brain gets this message, endorphins are released so that nerves stop sending pain signals to the brain. It's an amazingly quick and effective pain relieving mechanism.

Of course, every person's mechanism is a little different. Your body may respond slightly differently to pain than someone else's. So two people with the same injury may feel different levels of pain. People have different pain thresholds. But I'm sure that endorphins are helping you out big time right now.

ddljohn
Post 1

Does anyone know how quickly the body releases endorphins when there is physical pain?

I injured my back last week and have been surviving on injections of pain killers. I have constant pain. Reading about endorphins and pain makes me wonder if I'm actually feeling less pain right now than I would without endorphins.

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