In the case of a stubbed toe, the signals move rapidly up insulated nerve fibers to the brain’s thalamus, which acts as a relay station and directs them to the sensory cortex. The signals are then interpreted by the brain as a sharp pain. The slower impulses, traveling through the web-like neural fibers, become a throbbing ache felt through the entire toe, a warning to treat the area gingerly while it heals.
Temporary or acute pain, caused by minor ailments like a sprain or a burn, usually resolves itself after the affected region heals. When an acute situation goes unresolved or causes a malfunction in the nervous system, however, the pain cycle becomes self-perpetuating. In these cases, diagnosis and treatment can be challenging because the pain signals may reverberate throughout the nervous system, disguising the original source.
- How the Brain Interprets Pain and How to Get Relief, US News Health