Types of pain
What are the different types of pain?
Let’s start by answering one of the most common questions I get as a physio, what is pain?
Pain is a response the body produces to notify us when something is wrong. When the body detects a stimulus that has the potential or has already caused damage, the pain response is triggered. The body reacts to stop this stimulus from causing further damage. The type of pain and the experience is profoundly individual and can vary according to both a person’s mental and physical state.
Types of Pain
1. Nociceptive pain
The most common type of pain is nociceptive pain. Nerve endings called nociceptors detect pain in the body through tissue like the skin, bone, muscles, and joints. They are also in organ walls, and layers around the brain and chest and abdominal cavities. Nociceptive pain occurs when these receptors detect a stimulus that reaches a level that has the potential to cause damage to tissue. This form of pain is categorised as visceral pain or somatic pain. Visceral pain occurs within the body such as an organ within your chest or abdomen and feels like squeezing or cramping. Symptoms of somatic pain are caused by tissue damage, such as damage to muscles, bones, and tendons. Somatic pain occurs from a broken bones, joint conditions, tissue diseases and cancers that affect skin and bone among others.
2. Neuropathic pain
Pain caused by dysfunction in the somatosensory system is called neuropathic pain and can occur without any apparent cause. The somatosensory system is the way the body senses stimulus such as touch, temperature, pain and movement. Diseases or injuries can disrupt this system, affecting the signals which are sent through nerves to the spinal cord and brain. Symptoms include burning or ‘shooting’ pain and hypersensitivity to touch. This can result in poor sleep and increased anxiety and depression. The symptoms of neuropathic pain are often seen in spinal cord injuries, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, HIV infection, strokes, and Parkinson’s.
3. Acute pain
Acute pain is a short-term and sudden onset pain that has a specific cause. It is self-limiting, meaning it will only last the duration of the injury or disease. The timeframe for acute pain lasts up to 6 months. Examples of this type of pain result from cuts, broken bones and soft tissue injuries.
4. Chronic pain
Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than 6 months following an acute injury or disease. Pain signals can remain active long after an injury or disease has healed. Chronic pain can occur even without a previous injury. Arthritis, cancer, nerve and back pain are all common conditions that can cause chronic pain. Symptoms include fatigue, limited mobility and increased anxiety and depression.