The brain stem, thalamus and cerebral cortex are the three structures of the brain that receive and process sensations of pain, according to BrainFacts.org. Different parts of the cerebral cortex are involved with painful sensations originating from specific parts of the body. Pain processing occurs in the sensory cortex.
Other regions of the brain are also associated with the perception of pain, according to Macalester College. Pain signals reach the brain through two different pathways, known as the fast pathway and the slow pathway. The fast pathway connects to the thalamus through A-delta fibers, which are neural pathways that transmit sensory information regarding pain and temperature to the brain. After pain signals reach the thalamus, they are then transferred to the sensory and motor sections of the cortex for further processing.
The slow pathway, as the name suggests, transmits pain signals less quickly than the fast pathway. The slow pathway begins with C-fibers detecting a painful stimulus through chemical, pressure or temperature changes. The C-fibers transmit sensory information to the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, activating the central nervous system. The sensory information travels through the central nervous system to various areas of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala and the hypothalamus. The slow pathway is associated with the emotional reaction that occurs in response to painful stimuli, states Macalester College.