Types of pain

Pain is your body’s way of saying that something is or might become damaging to you. It is a warning sign, in the same way as a fever tells you that you are ill (that something is already wrong) and a fire alarm tells you your chip pan has caught fire (that you might have a problem if you don’t do something about it).

Acute pain is generally sudden in onset, and lasts a relatively short time. It is often an “emergency” pain signal. If you turn on a tap and put your hands under it, and the water that comes out is painfully hot, you will immediately pull your hands away. The pain warned you that if you continued to keep your hands in the water, they would probably get badly burned. As another example, your shoe may rub against your foot, causing you pain but no injury. If you ignore this warning sign, you can end up with a blister – damaged tissue – as well as pain. Acute pain generally disappears when the injury heals or the illness goes away (either of its own accord, or after successful treatment), or the body can no longer detect the source of the pain (for example, your rubbing shoe).

Chronic or persistent pain may range from mild to severe. It is said to be chronic when it is present to at least some degree for long periods of time. It may remain constant, or it can come and go, like the pain of migraines. It indicates a long-lasting health problem, which may or may not be serious and may or may not be treatable. The problem may go away (resolve) with time, or the pain may be something that the person has to live with for the rest of their life. If this is so, the pain can grow from being one of many symptoms, to the main problem.

Pain, whether or not it is severe, can be so distracting that it prevents us from completing our daily tasks without constantly having to stop, and it can cause considerable suffering. If uncontrolled, chronic long-lasting pain can affect relationships with loved ones and it can destroy the will to live.

Fortunately, pain can usually be controlled. If you are in pain, it is important to see a doctor and find out how.

The exact methods used to manage pain depend on how the pain has occurred. There are two main types of body damage that lead to pain, and which may need to be managed slightly differently. You feel nociceptive pain when a part of your body is injured or damaged in some way. The damaged tissue sends pain signals to your brain along a nerve pathway.

Listed below are some illnesses and conditions that may cause nociceptive pain.

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Back pain
  • Cancer pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headache
  • Migraine
  • Post-operative pain
  • Angina
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

You feel neuropathic pain when there is damage to the nerves themselves.

Listed below are some illnesses and conditions that may cause neuropathic pain.

  • Shingles and Post-herpetic neuralgia
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Phantom limb pain
  • Sciatica
  • Cancer pain
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Pain after a stroke
  • Post-operative pain

Remember, whatever the cause of the pain, there is no reason why you should not be able to get help controlling it. Never think your problems are insignificant, do not worry that you will be a nuisance or sound like you are moaning. If the pain is bothering you, do seek help.


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