How do painkillers kill pain? It’s about meeting the pain where it’s at

Enlarge / A variety of pain-relieving drugs are available both over the counter and by prescription.SelectStock/Getty

Without the ability to feel pain, life is more dangerous. To avoid injury, pain tells us to use a hammer more gently, wait for the soup to cool or put on gloves in a snowball fight. Those with rare inherited disorders that leave them without the ability to feel pain are unable to protect themselves from environmental threats, leading to broken bones, damaged skin, infections, and ultimately a shorter life span.

In these contexts, pain is much more than a sensation: It is a

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