We’ve all been there, right? Hitting our finger with a hammer, trapping it in the door, or bashing our funny bones (nothing funny about it!) on the wall. When this happens, we instinctively put our fingers in our mouths or rub our elbows, and this helps to sooth the pain slightly. Not only that, but it is classic self-soothing behavior, and helps to relax us and calm us down.
So, what is the reason behind this instinctive behavior? Why do we tend to put our fingers in our mouths after we have hurt them? To understand this, it is first important to understand how pain is communicated in the body and the way we process it. So, let’s explore the way the body processes pain, and why we put our fingers in our mouths.
In fact, in the 1960s, two MIT researchers came up with a theory that they referred to as the gate control theory of pain. This theory posits that feelings of pain link to nerve fibers and the way in which they are stimulated. The idea was that there would be a gate that would open upon an increase of pain, or close upon a reduction of pain. This is something that seems to be the accepted version to this day, of how the body deals with pain – and it does logically stack up as well.
So how does this link to the fingers?
Well, let’s go back to the finger in the mouth concept for a second, and look at how this links to the gate theory. When you trap your fingers, bang your shin, or hurt your elbow, you are opening the pain gates. But, when you rub your leg or suck on your finger, you are providing what is known as counter-irritation, which works toward counteracting the pain. This helps to try to shut the gate, and this reduces the pain significantly. It’s something that we just intuitively know how to do, even from a young age, and is a natural reaction for the body.
This concept has opened a lot of doors and given birth to new ideas about how we should go about treating pain. There are a lot of different options that we could use to help explore and examine the way the body processes pain. And, there are tests happening to try to use electrical stimulation to examine the impact of treating mild pain. This could become a cutting-edge idea in the future.
Pain is such a strange thing because it is controlled completely by our bodies and brains. There are so many different ways in which pain can be caused, but it’s all transmitted in the same way. As we learn and understand more about what causes pain in the body, we can also look at better ways of treating and managing pain scientifically as well.