When we feel pain, it tends to be a visceral experience that can be hard to describe. All you know is that something is hurting you or causing physical distress. However, learning about the common types of pain, what they feel like, and how to describe them to a doctor can be immensely helpful for patients seeking relief and treatment. Understanding pain can help you effectively communicate to your doctor so that they can formulate a pain management treatment plan that directly addresses what’s causing the issue and hopefully help you overcome pain quickly.
Pain as a Biological Response
Pain is the body’s way of communicating to the brain via the nervous system that something is wrong and needs to be corrected. For example, if your hand touches a hot stove, the heat from the stove will burn and injure your skin. Nerve endings in the hand respond to the stimuli by sending the brain a message that your hand is touching something hot and needs to be removed. Your brain then responds by giving the signal to pull your hand away. All of this feels like it happens in an instant, but quite a bit of communication has already occurred in the body by the time you’ve taken your hand off the stove.
Similarly, when certain movements or activities cause pain in our backs, shoulders, neck, or anywhere else in the musculoskeletal system, it’s the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. However, unlike the pain in the hand-on-the-stove example, musculoskeletal pain is not always immediately easy to describe or understand.
Acute vs. Chronic Pain
Acute pain refers to pain that happens suddenly and generally lasts for a shorter period of time. This type of pain is often caused by injury, strain, or trauma. Acute pain can last for only a moment or persist for several weeks. Once the underlying cause is treated, acute pain typically goes away. Although everyone experiences pain differently, acute pain typically starts intense and sharply before slowly improving with care. In many cases, acute pain is caused by something immediate and obvious, such as an injury.
Chronic pain, on the other hand, generally lasts for long periods of time, past the point of normal healing. While the initial cause of pain might have been an injury, chronic pain can continue persisting because something hasn’t healed properly. In severe cases, chronic pain can cause changes to a person’s mobility, energy, and more, ultimately having a profound effect on their overall quality of life.
Types of Pain
Pain can be categorized into four subtypes: functional pain, inflammatory pain, neuropathic pain, and nociceptive pain.
Functional pain is a type of pain that has no obvious structural or systemic cause. Some of these conditions are not fully understood and are believed to be connected to mental and/or neurological health. Two well-known types of functional pain syndromes are fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In fibromyalgia, patients can experience widespread pain, as well as fatigue, hypersensitivity, and more. In IBS, patients typically experience abdominal pain along with various gastrointestinal issues.
Inflammatory pain is a byproduct of an overreaction of the immune system causing irregular inflammation. One of the most common causes of inflammatory pain is rheumatoid arthritis, a condition in which the immune system attacks its own tissues. This type of pain is often felt in the joints, muscles, or along the back. It often causes painful swelling, along with stiffness, weakness, and tenderness. As time goes on, it can cause other pain-inducing complications such as pinched nerves, bone erosion, and joint deformity.
Neuropathic pain occurs when the nerves of the body are irritated, damaged, or injured. It often consists of a shooting sensation, tingling, numbness, and burning. Many activities, injuries, and diseases can cause neuropathic pain. Some of the most common musculoskeletal conditions that cause neuropathic pain include herniated discs and sciatica.
Nociceptive pain is typically caused by an external injury or trauma to body tissue, such as a sports injury, whiplash, or a car accident injury. Many types of musculoskeletal pain, including lumbar pain, cervical pain, and radicular pain, are often categorized as nociceptive pain.
How to Describe Pain
When talking to your doctor about pain, it’s helpful to keep several details in mind, including:
- If the pain was caused by a traumatic event or injury
- The location of the pain
- Whether the pain feels like a dull ache, sharp stabbing, or throbbing
- The intensity of the pain
- What activities make the pain worse
- Whether the pain is worse during specific times of the day or certain kinds of weather
- Whether the pain radiates
These details will help your doctor identify what’s causing your pain and develop a personalized treatment plan.
Get Advanced Pain Management Care in Hudson County, NJ
The doctors of The Spine & Sports Health Center specialize in interventional pain management and provide each patient with a detailed, informative diagnosis. Using a wide range of advanced pain management techniques, including injections, nerve blocks, radiofrequency ablation, spinal cord stimulation, as well as supplementary services such as physical therapy and chiropractic care, they create personalized treatment plans to address every patient’s unique pain-relief needs. Contact us today to schedule an appointment at one of our offices located in Hoboken, Jersey City, or Bayonne.