Different Types of Pain Explained
Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t right, and being aware of the pain you’re experiencing and being able to identify the type of pain you’re feeling can help guide you on how you can find relief.
So, what kinds of pain are we talking about? Let’s take a deep dive into the different types of pain, what can cause them, and more.
What Is “Pain?”
Before we jump into the various types of pain, let’s take a moment to discuss what pain is and what purpose it serves.
When something goes wrong in your body, or you come into contact with something in your environment that can be harmful, your nerves are stimulated. They send chemical signals through to your brain letting it know your body might be in danger, which triggers the feeling you recognize as “pain.”
As most of us have likely experienced, pain isn’t always specific. If you accidentally step on a lego, you’ll feel pain at the bottom of your foot, likely from the part of the foot that made contact with the toy. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon some days to deal with a headache, which could be caused by dehydration or muscle tightness or stress.
Pain doesn’t often differentiate, but it can have different intensities and it can “feel” different (like throbbing or sharp), and it’s these types of characteristics you should be able to identify and describe.
On top of that, people all feel pain differently. Everyone has a different threshold for pain, and sometimes you can feel multiple types of pain from different areas of the body all at once. This can make it extremely challenging to adequately explain what is happening with your body to your doctor, chiropractor, masseuse, or acupuncturist. No matter what type of healing you’re looking for, it’s important that you’re able to effectively communicate what you’re feeling.
By understanding the differences between types of pain, you’ll be able to talk about what you’re experiencing in a more productive way so you or your wellness provider can best figure out the best way to find relief.
Chronic pain is often defined as pain that lasts for more than six months and can result from any number of things. Sometimes, it is the result of a previous injury that didn’t heal correctly, other times it’s from a musculoskeletal disease like arthritis, or it just might be simply getting older. As we age, our bodies wear down and can subsequently ache or hurt, even if we aren’t sick or injured. Other times, there is no substantial cause that can be easily identified.
When dealing with chronic pain and describing it to a professional, you’ll want to identify a few things about your pain. You should be able to tell your provider how long you have been suffering, which activities aggravate the pain or bring it on, which activities relieve the pain, where the pain is coming from, and how often you are in pain. If you are always in pain, think about how much it might affect your day-to-day activities, and tell your provider about this.
Acute pain is often what, depending on the severity, may mean that you need to see a doctor immediately. In many cases, you are well aware of what caused the pain, and once it has been solved, the pain goes away and doesn’t return.
Using the example above, stepping on a lego would be classified as acute pain because the pain instantly kicks in and goes away when you remove the pressure of your foot from the toy.
Acute pain can be intense, even if the injury or issue isn’t overly severe. You don’t need to see a doctor after stepping on a toy, but your foot will sure hurt like heck when you put the full weight of your body on that tiny block.
Other examples of causes for acute pain can be cuts, broken bones, burns, or the occasional headache.
Now that we know about chronic versus acute pain, let’s talk about the causes of pain.
With nociceptive pain, your nerves or nociceptors are stimulated, which tells your brain that you’re being externally injured. Think of this as an alarm your nerves send your brain to tell it that a stimulus is causing damage to your body.
This helps you stay alive and healthy by warning you when something you’re doing is harming you. Touching a hot pan, for example, really hurts, so your brain will send that pain signal to force you to let go before you get second-degree burns.
There are two primary types of nociceptive pain.
Somatic refers to pain that comes from your limbs, muscles, bones, or skin. With somatic pain, most people find it much easier to pinpoint the location of the pain compared to something like a headache or stomach upset, even if they can’t tell what’s causing the problem.
From there, you can further identify pain as deep, meaning your bones, joints, or muscles, versus superficial, meaning closer to the surface of your skin. A major cut or gash would still be classified as superficial because it involves your skin, compared to a deep pain like a broken bone.
Visceral pain is triggered by an issue with your organs, so it usually refers to pain that happens in your torso. Since human torsos have so many organs crowded in, it’s often difficult to tell what is causing you pain without a professional opinion or medical testing. Depending on the organ causing you the pain, you might experience related symptoms — for example, if your stomach is upset, you might feel nauseated, in addition to cramping or aching pains.
The opposite of nociceptive pain is neuropathic pain. This pain comes directly from your central nervous system (CNS), versus being caused by something outside of your nervous system. Normally, your CNS only registers pain signals when there is some kind of source causing it, either internal or external, but with some health conditions like fibromyalgia, the CNS can start sending pain signals to your brain even when nothing is seeming to be causing it.
These pains can be acute or chronic and can be felt really anywhere in your body.
Because your CNS is misfiring or sending abnormal pain signals, these pains can feel like practically anything, from burning to stabbing to tingling sensations, even though there isn’t actually a stimulus injuring you.
How Acupuncture Can Help
One possibility to help with pain, after first talking to your doctor, is to utilize the healing properties of acupuncture from a certified specialist. If you’re ready to take your first steps towards pain relief, WTHN offers custom acupuncture treatments which are specifically tailored for your holistic and unique healing journey.
Head to Toe Relief
Modern life can be a pain... literally. When tension, aches, and discomfort sound the alarm, trust our time-tested blend, Head to Toe Relief, made of gentle-yet-powerful Chinese herbs to alleviate the above - minus prescription meds or the drug aisle's scary side effects.
Wrapping It Up
Now that you know more about how to identify different types of pain, it’ll become easier to describe the issues you’re having with your doctor or healer so you can work together to make a plan for finding relief.