I understand that the brain itself does not have pain receptors, so when the brain is damaged or cut, there is no experience of pain. For example, surgeons can operate on the brain while a patient is awake without causing pain.

How about the spinal cord? Are there pain receptors in the spinal cord? Will damaging the cord itself cause a feeling of pain?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's the same as this question biology.stackexchange.com/q/81524/107 $\endgroup$
    – kmm
    Feb 27 '19 at 13:59
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @kmm that question has no upvotes or accepted answers. This question is slightly better worded than the one you linked. I think this one should be left open. $\endgroup$
    – L.B.
    Feb 27 '19 at 14:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That question should be edited and thus proposed for reopening, not posed as a new question. $\endgroup$
    – kmm
    Feb 27 '19 at 14:50
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is a difficult and subtle question for many reasons. The primary issue here is that there is a difference between "does the parenchyma of this central nervous system structure have nociceptors (or, in fact, any peripheral receptors)" and "can the parenchyma of this central nervous system structure detect direct stimulus". There is also the issue that pain is not a sensation, so much as an associative cortical event. So this is a hard question to answer completely, as it is phrased, but it is also difficult to expect someone to understand this after, even a few hours of undirected research $\endgroup$
    – De Novo
    Feb 27 '19 at 15:32


Like the brain, the receptors commonly called 'pain' receptors aren't in the spinal cord itself, but they are present in the meninges around the cord, and damage to the cord can be perceived as pain in particular because it can increase activity in the pathways carrying 'pain' information to the brain.


Nociceptors, often called pain receptors, are peripheral structures that sense and transmit noxious stimuli to the central nervous system. The cell bodies of afferents from these receptors are found in the dorsal root or trigeminal ganglion. The receptor structures themselves (the afferent terminal of these neurons) are not found in the parenchyma of any central structure, though they do innervate the meninges of both the brain and spinal cord. Despite the lack of peripheral receptors of nociception, damage to the spinal cord is often associated with increased activity in the tracts that carry nociceptive information.

This may be beyond the question you're asking, but I would note that the IASP defines pain as:

a sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.

Pain is probably best understood less as a sense that nicely maps the external environment to a conscious representation of that environment, and more as an emotional need state, like hunger. Many different receptor structures and nerves can transmit a signal that can eventually be interpreted as pain, and in fact pain can be experienced without any physical peripheral input at all (as the IASP definition attests). This is one of the reasons nociceptors are typically not called pain receptors by people who treat or study pain.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.