Types of Pain

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By Joseph W. Galassi, M.D.

It is important to understand that different types of pain are treated differently.

Acute pain
  • An example of this is a fracture or broken bone that happens as the result of an accident. This example of acute pain is called nociceptive pain. Our body tells us something is wrong, because it acutely hurts after the accident. 
  • Another example of acute pain is abdominal pain related to appendicitis. This is called visceral pain. It comes from our intestine or viscera. Once again, our body is telling us that something is wrong in our abdomen because it hurts.

Chronic pain

  • This is generally defined as pain that lasts longer than three months.
  • Chronic pain, by its definition, implies that it is more difficult to treat. If we could have fixed the underlying cause, the pain would have resolved.
  • Chronic pain can be nociceptive pain, meaning pain coming from the muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, or tendons.
  • Chronic pain can be neuropathic pain, meaning pain from irritated nerves themselves.
  • Chronic pain can be visceral pain, meaning pain from bowel or pelvic organs or other organs inside the body.
  • One of the most common areas of chronic pain is chronic low back pain.
  • Chronic pain is often multifactorial in its cause, and, as such, makes it more difficult to treat and even more difficult to cure. Oftentimes, our goal is management or control of the pain to allow an individual to function at his or her highest level possible.
Cancer pain
  • Cancer pain is related to the tumor itself and where it spreads.
  • Depending on the response of the cancer to medical treatment, the pain may or may not resolve. A cure to the cancer means the pain usually goes away.
  • There are often other symptoms that a person can get when they are treated for cancer that accompany pain. This includes side effects from radiation and chemotherapy. Pain and symptom management often go hand in hand when being treated by a physician.

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