Different Types of Pain
Whether it’s a stubbed toe, a broken bone, or something more chronic, it’s safe to say all of us will experience pain at some point in our lives. And while never pleasant, pain is a natural and necessary system our bodies use to alert us of problems so we can begin the healing process.
We’ve all experienced pain of one type or another, but the different types of pain vary greatly, as do their causes and possible treatments.
Now, let’s dive into some of the most common types of pain, and uncover what it is and why it occurs in the first place.
We can classify and differentiate types of pain based on the following:
- The kind of damage it does to the body (nociceptive, neuropathic, or psychogenic)
- The duration and frequency (chronic vs. acute)
This is one of the three broad types of pain based on the type of damage. Nociceptive pain relates to pain caused by tissue damage, such as a torn ligament or burst spleen, or even a cat scratch. Of course, this type of pain involves the nervous system, which reports the sensation of pain to the brain so we can react to it. It originates with an injury to the physical body.
The root cause of nociceptive pain is when receptors in the body called nociceptors receive notice that some type of harm has been done. A bruise, cut, scrape, burn, or break (to name a few examples) stimulate these receptors to react by sending a message to your brain to feel pain.
Since this type of pain encompasses many common injuries or ailments we feel, the symptoms can vary widely. Everything from a broken toe to touching a hot stove falls under the nociceptive umbrella.
This second broad category refers to pain caused by nerve damage. Ever experienced a pinched nerve? This would be an example of neuropathic pain. You can think of neuropathic pain as something that directly impacts the nervous system. It is not caused by an affliction on the body.
The sensations of neuropathic pain are commonly described as burning, prickling, tingling, or stabbing. The pain can be sharp or severe, and may feel like it’s “shooting” down the body.
There are quite a few causes of neuropathic pain, including accidents, surgery, infections, or diseases. For example, a car crash can cause nerve damage; a case of shingles can leave a patient with nerve damage; an amputation can leave a patient feeling a “phantom limb;” or diseases like HIV can do lasting nerve damage. Diabetes, strokes, and cancers are other common causes.
You might think all pain has to originate in the body, but this third type can have psychological origins. The science behind this category of pain is still being uncovered, and while it doesn’t have a clear physical origin or event that caused it, similar to nociceptive pain, it’s pain nonetheless.
We’re still learning about the very real connection between the brain and the body, the physical and the psychological. In the case of psychogenic pain, the symptoms can be a general, an all-over achiness, or can manifest as stomach aches, headaches, muscle aches, or back pain.
Psychogenic pain, while linked to the brain, can initially arise from physical tissue damage which then moves into a more psychological manifestation as it becomes prolonged and worsened by stress, anxiety, fear, depression, etc.
The cause of psychogenic pain usually isn’t in the physical body at all, but originates from a psychological condition. Our thoughts, beliefs, fears, and stressors can cause psychogenic pain. This makes the study and treatment harder than other types, since there is no “physical” root or clear cause to point to.
Acute vs. Chronic Pain
Another common way to differentiate types of pain is sorting between chronic and acute pain.
Pain that comes on suddenly and generally lasts only a short time is known as acute. Think of a time you sprained an ankle or broke a bone. The pain can be severe, and involves damage to a bone, organ, or tissue. However, with acute pain, it quickly subsides.
On the other hand, chronic pain can be long-lasting and not attached to an isolated event. An illness such as fibromyalgia, for example, that can cause ongoing pain originating from nerve damage can cause chronic pain.
Talking to Your Doctor About Types of Pain
As with any medical condition, you should contact your physician to figure out the root cause of your pain. You may also need to see a specialist depending on the type of pain you're experiencing. There are many treatment options to explore, and a medical professional will be able to help find the best option for your needs.
While everyone experiences some pain every now and then, prolonged suffering is not common. Thanks to advances in modern medicine, there are many ways to alleviate or decrease your pain. Again, be sure to consult a medical professional for treatment.
In the case of psychogenic pain, your doctor will need to do a little digging to diagnose the issue and find a suitable treatment. Psychotherapy or antidepressants, or a combination, are possible approaches.
With any type of pain, your doctor will need to develop a treatment plan based on the type and the severity of the pain. There are many options of treatment ranging from pain killers, surgical approaches, physical therapy, alternative practices like acupuncture or massage, and more.