What is nociceptive pain?
Nociceptive pain is one of the two main types of physical pain. The other is called neuropathic pain.
Nociceptive pain is the most common type. It’s caused by potentially harmful stimuli being detected by nociceptors around the body.
Nociceptors are a type of receptor that exists to feel all and any pain that’s likely to be caused by the body being harmed. Harm can include mechanical or physical damage to various parts of the body. For example, the damaged areas could include the skin, muscles, bones, or other tissues. The nociceptors can also detect chemical and thermal damage. Chemical damage is caused by contact with toxic or hazardous chemicals. Exposure to extremely hot or cold temperatures leads to thermal damage.
Injuries that cause nociceptive pain include:
- pain caused by overuse or joint damage, such as arthritis or sprains
When activated by stimuli, nociceptors notify the brain about the injury with electrical signals sent via the peripheral and central nervous system (CNS). When the brain receives the signals, it has a perception of the pain that’s being felt.
In comparison, neuropathic pain is linked with damage to the body’s neurological system. An infection or injury commonly causes this type of pain. It leads to messages of pain being sent via the CNS to the brain.
Neuropathic pain is often described as “shooting” pain. This is probably caused by the abnormal way that it travels along the nerves. People often say this pain feels like a burning sensation along the path of an affected nerve. It can also be described as a numb feeling.
Some people say that the neuropathic pain they experience is a constant sensation. Others report episodes that come and go. Diabetic neuropathy and pain caused by multiple sclerosis are some examples of neuropathic pain.
Types of nociceptive pain
Nociceptive pain covers most leg, arm, and back pain. They’re categorized as either radicular or somatic.
Radicular pain occurs when the nerve roots are irritated. It goes down your arm or leg through a nerve that comes from the the spinal cord.
Radiculopathy is an example of a condition that causes radicular pain. Radiculopathy occurs when a nerve is pinched in the spine. It causes numbness, weakness, and tingling — or feelings of pins and needles — among other symptoms.
Somatic pain happens when any of the pain receptors in your tissues, such as muscles, bone, or skin, are activated. This type of pain is often stimulated by movement. It’s usually localized. Headaches and cuts are both considered somatic pain.
Visceral pain happens when internal organs, such as involuntary muscles in the heart, are injured or inflamed. This type of pain is usually described as aching. The location may seem vague. Here’s more about somatic versus visceral pain, and when to see your doctor.
How is nociceptive pain treated?
Treatment of this type of pain depends on the seriousness of the injury. In the case of minor injuries, the pain quite often goes away as the injury heals. However, if your pain continues, you need to talk with your doctor. They’ll examine your injury and decide on an appropriate method of pain relief.
Your pain management is decided based on your symptoms and what caused the pain. Your doctors will assess:
- how intense your pain is
- how long it lasts
- the structures involved in causing the pain
An example of nociceptive pain that’s typically less complex is a nerve root aggravated by a bulging or ruptured disc. This sends pain radiating down your leg or arm. Sometimes the pain can be relieved by an epidural steroid injection combined with physical therapy. If this doesn’t work, your doctor may suggest another approach.
Other approaches may include:
- changes to how your medications are managed
- surgical procedures
- physical or chiropractic therapy
- alternative therapies, such as acupuncture
- a referral to other medical specialists
What’s the outlook for someone with nociceptive pain?
The outlook for your pain depends on what’s causing it. Pain caused by a bruise should go away once the bruise has healed. However, pain caused by arthritis can be managed by treatments, but won’t go away completely.
Talk to your doctor if your pain is severe or persistent. They can help you find ways to manage or treat your pain.