Why exactly does walking after falling or experiencing some other similar injury help reduce the pain?



I was wondering about the “walk it off” phrase, why does walking help with pain?

In: Biology

Neuroscientist here! It really depends on the type of injury, but generally it comes down to the nature of pain. Pain is basically just a series of electrochemical signals generated by nerve cells that then travel to your brain and are then interpreted as being bad. They are your bodies way of telling you that something is wrong.

However, there’s only so much “information” that can travel between your nerves and your brain at any given time. By walking around after a minor injury, you’re forcing your body to start sending a lot of sensory feedback up to the brain and back. You have to constantly monitor your balance, make sure you put your feet where they need to go, look forward to make sure you don’t walk into a wall, etc. All of this involves signals traveling between your body and your brain and the original pain signal has a way of getting a bit lost in the background. This has the effect of you feeling like the injury doesn’t hurt as much.

Think of it like your internet connection. You only have so much bandwidth that you can use. If you are only watching YouTube, you’ll get a crisp and clean HD video. But then someone else in the house turns on netflix, then you decide start downloading some music, and your laptop starts to sync its photos with the cloud! Suddenly the YouTube video is 240p and constantly buffering. Your pain is like the video, the more stuff that is going on the less you’ll be able to notice it.