Types of Pain
Pain is a general term that describes any kind of unpleasant or uncomfortable sensation in the body.
There are many different types and causes of pain, and these can be grouped into eight different categories to help with pain management:
Soft tissue pain
This starts suddenly and only lasts for a short period (ie, minutes, hours, a couple of days, occasionally a month or two).
It is usually caused by a specific event or injury, such as:
A broken bone
A car crash or other type of accident
Burns or cuts
Labor and childbirth
Chronic pain is pain that has persisted for longer than six months and is experienced most days. It may have originally started as acute pain, but the pain has continued long after the original injury or event has healed or resolved. Chronic pain can range from mild to severe and is associated with conditions such as:
Chronic pain can severely affect a person’s quality of life and prevent them from returning to work or participating in physical activity. In some people, it may lead to depression or social isolation.
Breakthrough pain is a sudden, short, sharp increase in pain that occurs in people who are already taking medications to relieve chronic pain caused by conditions such as arthritis, cancer, or fibromyalgia.
Breakthrough pain may also be called a pain flare and it may occur with exercise or physical activity, coughing, illness, stress, or during the period between pain medication doses. The pain level is often severe, but the location of the pain is usually the same as the person’s chronic pain.
This is a tenderness, aching or discomfort in one or more bones that is present during both exercise and rest.
Bone pain is commonly associated with conditions or diseases that affect the structure or function of bone, such as cancer, a fracture (broken bone), infection, leukemia, mineral deficiency, sickle cell anemia, or osteoporosis. Many pregnant women experience pelvic girdle pain.
Nerve pain is caused by nerve damage or inflammation. It is usually described as a sharp, shooting, burning or stabbing pain and may also be called neuralgia or neuropathic pain. Some people describe it as being like an electric shock and it is often worse at night.
Nerve pain can severely interfere with a person’s life and affect their sleep, work, and physical activity levels. They are often very sensitive to cold and may experience pain with even the slightest touch. Many people with chronic nerve pain also develop anxiety or depression.
People with neuropathic pain are often very sensitive to touch or cold and can experience pain as a result of stimuli that would not normally be painful, such as brushing the skin.
Common causes of nerve pain include:
An injury to the brain, a nerve, or the spinal cord
Herpes zoster (shingles)
Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Phantom pain is pain that feels like it is coming from a body part that is no longer there. It is common in people who have had a limb amputated, but is different from phantom limb sensation, which is usually painless.
Historically, Doctors believed phantom pain was a psychological problem but they now realize these are real pain sensations that originate in the spinal cord and brain. It often gets better with time, but managing phantom pain can be challenging in some people.
Soft Tissue Pain
This is pain or discomfort that results from damage or inflammation of the muscles, tissues, or ligaments. It may be associated with swelling or bruising and common causes include:
Back or neck pain
Rotator cuff injury
Sports injuries, such as sprains or strains
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome.
This is pain that feels like it is coming from one particular location, but is the result of an injury or inflammation in another structure or organ. For example, during a heart attack, pain is often felt in the neck, left shoulder, and down the right arm. An injury or inflammation of the pancreas is often felt as constant pain in the upper stomach area that radiates to the back. A ruptured spleen can cause pain in the shoulder blade.
Referred pain happens because there is a network of interconnecting sensory nerves, that supply many different tissues. An injury in one area of the network can be mistakenly interpreted by the brain as being in a different part of the network.