The sensation of pain involves communication between your nerves, spinal cord, and brain. There are different types of pain, depending on the underlying cause.
We all feel pain in different ways, so you may find it difficult to describe the type of pain you’re feeling to others. You can also experience more than one type of pain at a time, which only adds to the difficulty.
Understanding the different types of pain can make it easier for you to talk to your doctor and describe your symptoms. Read on to learn about some of the main types of pain and how they feel.
Acute pain is short-term pain that comes on suddenly and has a specific cause, usually tissue injury. Generally, it lasts for fewer than six months and goes away once the underlying cause is treated.
Acute pain tends to start out sharp or intense before gradually improving.
Common causes of acute pain include:
- broken bones
- dental work
- labor and childbirth
Pain that lasts for more than six months, even after the original injury has healed, is considered chronic.
While past injuries or damage can cause chronic pain, sometimes there’s no apparent cause.
Without proper management, chronic pain can start to impact your quality of life. As a result, people living with chronic pain may develop symptoms of anxiety or depression.
Other symptoms that can accompany chronic pain include:
- tense muscles
- lack of energy
- limited mobility
Some common examples of chronic pain include:
- frequent headaches
- nerve damage pain
- low back pain
- arthritis pain
- fibromyalgia pain
Nociceptive pain is the most common type of pain. It’s caused by stimulation of nociceptors, which are pain receptors for tissue injury.
You have nociceptors throughout your body, especially in your skin and internal organs. When they’re stimulated by potential harm, such as a cut or other injury, they send electrical signals to your brain, causing you to feel the pain.
This type of pain you usually feel when you have any type of injury or inflammation. Nociceptive pain can be either acute or chronic. It can also be further classified as being either visceral or somatic.
Visceral pain results from injuries or damage to your internal organs. You can feel it in the trunk area of your body, which includes your chest, abdomen, and pelvis. It’s often hard to pinpoint the exact location of visceral pain.
Visceral pain is often described as:
You may also notice other symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, as well as changes in body temperature, heart rate, or blood pressure.
Examples of things that cause visceral pain include:
- irritable bowel syndrome
Somatic pain results from stimulation of the pain receptors in your tissues, rather than your internal organs. This includes your skin, muscles, joints, connective tissues, and bones. It’s often easier to pinpoint the location of somatic pain rather than visceral pain.
Somatic pain usually feels like a constant aching or gnawing sensation.
It can be further classified as either deep or superficial:
- Deep somatic pain is felt in your joints, tendons, bones, and muscle. It’s often described as aching.
- Superficial somatic pain is felt in your skin and mucus membranes. It may feel sharp or throbbing.
For example, a tear in a tendon will cause deep somatic pain, while a canker sore on your inner check causes superficial somatic pain.
Examples of somatic pain include:
- bone fractures
- strained muscles
- connective tissue diseases, such as osteoporosis
- cancer that affects the skin or bones
- skin cuts, scrapes, and burns
- joint pain, including arthritis pain
Neuropathic pain results from damage to or dysfunction of your nervous system. This results in damaged or dysfunctional nerves misfiring pain signals. This pain seems to come out of nowhere, rather than in response to any specific injury.
You may also feel pain in response to things that aren’t usually painful, such as cold air or clothing against your skin.
Neuropathic pain is described as:
- electric shocks
Diabetes is a common cause of neuropathic pain. Other sources of nerve injury or dysfunction that can lead to neuropathic pain include:
- chronic alcohol consumption
- facial nerve problems, such as Bell’s palsy
- spinal nerve inflammation or compression
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- central nervous system disorders, such as multiple sclerosisor Parkinson’s disease
- chemotherapy drugs
Pain is a very personal experience that varies from person to person. What feels very painful to one person may only feel like mild pain to another. And other factors, such as your emotional state and overall physical health, can play a big role in how you feel pain.
Describing your pain accurately can make it easier for your doctor to find the cause of your pain and recommend the right treatment. If possible, write down details of your pain before your appointment to help you be as clear as possible.
Here are some things your doctor will want to know:
- how long you’ve had the pain
- how often your pain occurs
- what brought on your pain
- what activities or movements make your pain better or worse
- where you feel the pain
- whether your pain is localized to one spot or spread out
- if your pain comes and goes or is constant
Be sure to use words that best describes the type of pain you feel.
Here are a few words to consider using:
Keeping a pain diary to track your symptoms can also be helpful. Take note of things like:
- when it starts
- how long it lasts
- how it feels
- where you feel it
- how severe it is on a scale of 1 to 10
- what brought on or triggered the pain
- what, if anything, made it better
- any medications or treatments used
If you do keep a pain diary, make sure to bring it along to your next doctor’s appointment.