What Is Pain?


What is pain?

Pain is a signal from the central nervous system indicating that something is wrong. Pain can actually be helpful; it alerts the brain to take action. If an individual never felt pain, they could be injured or have a serious medical condition without any awareness that the body is in danger. However, chronic pain is an entirely different experience; it is often experienced as a symptom of a chronic medical condition or has no known cause and is a condition in itself.

Pain ranges from mild to severe. It may feel like shooting, stabbing, burning, aching, pinching or the feeling of pins and needles. It can be experienced in any part of the body. Pain is a subjective experience; it differs for each person.

How is pain classified?

Pain is complex and can be classified in different ways:

  • Pain is either classified as acute or chronic. Acute pain is usually sudden and resolves within a limited time. Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts for more than three to six months. The pain may or may not be constant; however, it does interfere with activities and daily life.
  • Pain is also classified as nociceptive or neuropathic. Nociceptive pain originates from the peripheral nervous system which contains nerve endings (nociceptors) that respond to tissue damage. Nociceptors respond to stimuli, such as heat, cold, pressure, burns, cuts, inflammation, illnesses and surgery. Neuropathic pain results from damage to the nerves themselves (spinal or peripheral) from an accident, surgery, infection or medical condition.

Pain is individualized

Pain levels are highly subjective and are based not only on physical responses but also on perception. Prior memories regarding pain and situations in which pain was caused can affect future experiences of pain. The perception of pain may also be affected by genetics, psychological factors and social circumstances.