Peripheral Nervous System: Crash Course A&P #12

Peripheral Nervous System: Crash Course A&P #12

When it comes to the nervous system, or just
your body in general, let’s face it: your brain gets all the props. And it deserves those props! It’s a complicated,
and crucial, and sometimes crazy boss of an organ. But your brain would be pretty useless without
a support team that kept it connected to the outside world. Because frankly, like any leader, the more
isolated your brain gets, the weirder it gets. Put a person in a watery, pitch-black sensory
deprivation tank, and you’ll see the brain do some really weird stuff. Without a constant
flood of external information, the brain starts to confuse its own thoughts for actual experiences,
leading you to hallucinate the taste of cheeseburgers, or the sound of a choir singing, or the sight
of pink stampeding elephants. It’s your peripheral nervous system that
keeps things real, by putting your brain in touch with the physical environment around you,
and allowing it to respond. This network snakes through just about every part of your body,
providing the central nervous system with information ranging from the temperature, to the touch
of a hand on your shoulder, to a twisted ankle. The peripheral nervous system’s sensory
nerve receptors spy on the world for the central nervous system, and each type responds to
different kinds of stimuli. Thermoreceptors respond to changes in temperature.
photoreceptors react to light, chemoreceptors pay attention to chemicals, and mechanoreceptors
respond to pressure, touch, and vibration. And then we’ve got specialized nerve receptors
called nociceptors that, unlike those other receptors, fire only to indicate pain, which
is the main thing I want to talk about today. Because, as unpleasant as a stick in the eye
or tack in the foot may be, pain is actually a great example of where everything we’ve talked
about over the last few weeks all comes together, as we trace a pain signal through your nervous
system, from the first cuss to the Hello Kitty band aid. By the end of this episode of Crash Course
Anatomy & Physiology you’ll never think of a stubbed toe, pounding headache, or burned
tongue the same way again. Most people go to great lengths to avoid pain,
but really, it’s an incredibly useful sensation, because it helps protect us from ourselves,
and from the outside world. If you’re feeling physical pain, it probably
means that your body is under stress, damaged, or in danger, and your nervous system is sending
a cease and desist signal to stop twisting your arm like that, or to back away from that bonfire,
or please seek medical attention, like, RIGHT NOW. So in that way, pain is actually good for
you — that’s why it exists. I’m not saying it’s pleasant, but if you’ve ever wished
for an X-Men-like power to be impervious to pain, I’ve gotta say, that is one foolish
monkey’s paw of a wish. Just ask Ashlyn Blocker. She’s got a genetic
mutation that’s given her a total insensitivity to any kind of pain. And as a result, she’s
absent-mindedly dunked her hands in pots of boiling water, run around for days without noticing
broken bones, and nearly chewed off her own tongue. Luckily, such congenital conditions are very
rare. The rest of us have a whole nervous system dedicated to making sure our bodies react with
a predictable chain of events at the first sign of damage. Like say you just wake up and you’re extraordinarily
hungry for some reason, so you run downstairs to grab some clam chowder, but you didn’t put
any shoes on and suddenly you’re like, “YOWW!” There’s a tack, fell out of the wall, and
you stepped right on it — of course. Your foot immediately lifts off the ground,
and then you’re assuring your dog that you’re not yelling at her, you’re just yelling,
and then you limp over to the couch, and sit down, and you pull up your foot, and remove
that spiny devil from your flesh. You want to talk physiology? So what exactly
just happened in your body? Well, the first step was a change in your
environment — that is, a stimulus that activated some of your sensory receptors. In this case, it was a change from the probably
completely ignored feeling of bare skin on a smooth floor to a distinct feeling of discomfort
— the sharp metal tack piercing your skin. Your peripheral nervous system’s mechano-
and nociceptors provided that base sensation, or awareness that something had changed. Then it went to your central nervous system
— first to the spinal cord that caused the immediate reflexive action of pulling up your foot,
and then your brain eventually interpreted that awareness into the perception of pain, and decided to
pull the tack out and probably say an expletive or two. Pain itself is a pretty subjective feeling, but the
fact is, we all have the same pain threshold. That is, the point where a stimulus is intense
enough to trigger action potentials in those nociceptors is the same for everybody. But, you and
I might have different tolerances for discomfort. In general, most doctors think of pain as the perception
of pain — whatever any given brain says pain is. So, you’ve got the stimulating event — foot
meets tack — and then the reception of that signal, as the nociceptors in your foot sense
that stimulus, and then the transmission of that signal through your nerves to your spinal
cord and eventually up to the brain. Now remember back how every neuron in your body
has a membrane that keeps positive and negative charges separated across its boundaries, like a battery
sitting around waiting for something to happen? Well that tack in your flesh is that something.
And it snaps those nociceptors to attention. Some neurons have mechanically-gated receptors
that respond to a stretch in their membranes — in this case, that happens when the tack
punches through them. Meanwhile, other neurons have ligand-gated
receptors that open when the damaged skin tissue releases chemicals like histamine or
potassium ions. These channels allow sodium ions to flood
into the neuron, causing a graded potential, if that hits the right threshold, it activates
the electrical event that sends the signal all the way up the axon and gets one neuron
talking to another — the action potential. When that action potential races down the
length of its axon to the terminal, the message hits the synapse that then flings it over that synaptic
gap to another neuron that’s in your spinal cord. Remember, signals travel between neurons either
by electrical or chemical synapses. The electrical ones send an electrical impulse,
while the chemical ones — the ones I’m talking about now — first convert that signal
from electrical to chemical, by activating neurotransmitters to bridge the synaptic gap,
before the receiving neuron converts that chemical signal back into an electrical one. In this case, news of the tack-attack is carried
by specific neurotransmitters whose sole job is to pass along pain messages. Now, so far, your body’s response to the
stimulus has been handled by the sensory, or afferent, division of your peripheral nervous
system. This is the part that’s involved expressly in collecting data and sending it
to the central nervous system. But at this point, the responsibility changes
hands. The torch is passed. Because the pain signal has just triggered
an action potential in a neuron in the spinal cord, which is part of the central nervous system,
and there it reaches an integration center. From here, the response is taken over by the
motor, or efferent division. Once the integration center interprets the
signal, it transmits the message to motor neurons, which send an action potential back
down your leg, where it reaches an effector. And an effector is just any structure that
receives and reacts to a motor neuron’s signal, like a muscle contracting or a gland
secreting a hormone. From here, the motor neurons complete the
whole foot-lifting response until the rest of your nervous system gets engaged in the
complicated tasks of figuring out what the problem is, and fixing it. Those are the five steps that your highly
specific neural pathways go through to produce what’s known as a reflex arc. A lot of your body’s control systems boil
down to reflexes just like this — immediate reactions that can either be innate or learned, but
don’t need much conscious processing in the brain. Lifting your foot when you step on a tack
is an innate, or intrinsic, reflex action — a super fast motor response to a startling
stimulus. These reflexes are so invested in your self-preservation
that you actually can’t think about them before you respond. All this processing happens in the spinal
cord, so that the control of muscles can be initiated before the pain is actually perceived
by the brain. Learned, or acquired reflexes on the other
hand, come from experience. Like how you learn to dodge obstacles while riding a bike or
driving a car. That process is also largely automatic, but you learn those reflexes by spending
time behind the wheel, or behind the handlebars. And reflex arcs stimulate some muscles, while
inhibiting others. For example, the tack in your right foot ended up activating the motor
neurons in your right hip flexors and hamstring, causing that knee to bend and your foot to
lift up. But it also told the quad muscles in your
left leg to extend and stand tall, allowing you to shift your body’s weight off the
tack. Of course not all reflexes come from pain,
as you’ve probably experienced when a doctor tapped your knee and your foot kicked. Your muscles and tendons are very sensitive
to being stretched too far, or too fast, because that kind of movement can cause injury. So for this we have receptors called muscle
and tendon spindles that specifically sense stretching. If triggered by an over-stretch,
they generate a reflex arc that contracts the muscle to keep it from stretching further. So, when does the brain actually get involved
in all this? Well, when your spinal cord sent impulses
down the motor neurons, it also sent signals up your spinal cord toward the brain. News of the tack arrived first at your thalamus,
the information switchboard that then split the message and sent it to the somatosensory
cortex — which identifies and localizes the pain, like: “sharp, and foot”; as well
as the limbic system, which registers emotional suffering — like, “why tack? Why me?!”
And it also went to the frontal cortex, which made sense of it all, assigning meaning to
the pain — like, “oh, I see this tack fell from the Crash Course poster on the wall here.” So basically, although your body has been
reacting all along, it’s not until those pain signals hit the brain that you have the
conscious thoughts of both “dang, that hurt,” and “oh, that hurt because I stepped on
a specific pointy thing.“ And this is where I want to point out that
we here at Crash Course cannot be held responsible for any injuries sustained in the process
of owning a Crash Course poster. Enjoy them at your own risk. Today you got your first look at the peripheral
nervous system, by learning how the afferent and efferent divisions provide information
about, and responses to, pain. You learned about the five steps of the reflex arc, the
different kinds of reflexes you have, and what your brain has to say about all that
pain, once the news is finally broken to it. Crash Course is now on Patreon! Big thanks
to all of our supporters on Patreon who make Crash Course possible for themselves and for
the whole rest of the world through their monthly contributions. If you like Crash Course
and you want to help us keep making great new videos like this one, you can check out This episode was written by Kathleen Yale.
The script was edited by Blake de Pastino, and our consultant, is Dr. Brandon Jackson.
It was directed by Nicholas Jenkins, edited by Nicole Sweeney, and our graphics team is
Thought Café.

100 Replies to “Peripheral Nervous System: Crash Course A&P #12”

  1. Currently, I am working on my RMT…Crash Course, Hank, has made my studies understandable.
    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!

  2. Medicine names are very random in english medicine.

    As an italian who studied latin and greek(it's in curricula here) i can understand them…. but you?!?

    Example: nociceptors…. noci= nocere, latin stands for "being harmed/wounded/attacked"

  3. just think, our brain listens to people talking about it and then tries to help us understand that people are talking about it…so conceited

  4. After watching this, I suddenly wonder why my pain tolerance weakened after the delivery. I went through C-section, and now I'm sensitive to every little pain 🙁

  5. This kind of stuff should replace classroom theory… more people would understand how anatomy and physiology works! Good stuff!

  6. Crash course anatomy and physiology saves me everytime! Like seriously, my lecturer is so lazy that he won't revise the material before teaching us and then makes 100's of errors while teaching 😑😑😑

  7. I’m studying for my Physiology exam (veterinary medicine) and this channel and Hank talking have been really helping me. Thank you so much

  8. Some basic errors – there are no ‘pain receptors’, ‘pain messages’ or ‘pain pathways’ and there is no ‘pain before it’s received by the brain’. There is no pain ‘before the brain’ – STOP CONFLATING NOCICEPTION AND PAIN THEY ARE NOT THE SAME!!!!

  9. Why am I just now finding these videos ????? Ugh could have had an A in anatomy and physiology 😭

  10. raw

    receptor, sensory (neurone), relay (neurone), motor (neurone), effector
    hope this helps

  11. The pain and inflammation systems are actually enormously mal-adaptive. Their response is usually hugely over-zealous in relation to potential threats. Nerve injuries and chronic pain syndromes are a seriously maladaptive pain response.

  12. Many peeps here thank Hank, i thank the whole channel;
    Hank, writer, script editor, consultant, director, editor, sound designer and Thought Cafe.

  13. Nice video. Altough there is no such thing as "pain signal". You can have pain with or without nociception. Pain is an output of the brain modulated by complex biological, psychological and social factors.

  14. BTW, the disorder he was talking about was CIPA. Congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis. I'm not sure if the women he was talking about had that disorder in particular, but people with CIPA, well can't feel pain. They also can't feel temperature, which sucks because now their body never sweats or shivers, and they are highly prone to hypo or hyper thermia. Along with everything else . . . . Hey, so, you may think it's cool to not feel pain or cold or heat. But you will also severely limit your lifespan, as in you die before your a teen. Mostly because of hyperthermia (overheating).
    So, next time you play God of War, be mindful that Baldur has CIPA. Lucky for him, though, is that he's a god and can't die.

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