Pain is an unpleasant experience we all encounter at some point in our lives. But did you know there are various types of pain? Knowing the different kinds of pain can help you better understand the underlying causes and treatments available.
In this article, you’ll learn about the five types of pain, how to manage them, and when to seek medical help.
- The five most common types of pain are acute, chronic, neuropathic, nociceptive, and radicular.
- Pain management depends on the type and can include various pain medications, rest, physical therapy, lifestyle changes, and complementary therapies such as acupuncture.
- Consult with your healthcare provider if the pain is accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever or tingling, persistence or debilitation, or if it affects your mobility and quality of life.
Acute pain is a form of pain that comes on suddenly and can last anywhere from a few minutes to several weeks or months. It usually results from an injury or illness and can feel sharp, dull, or like a burning or tingling sensation. It is essential to get medical help if the pain doesn’t go away or worsens, especially when you can’t complete everyday activities.
Examples of acute pain include:
- Muscle or joint pain
- Broken bones or muscle sprains
- Headaches or neck pain
- Skin conditions like shingles
- Internal organ pain
Common treatments for acute pain include rest, ice, elevation, and pain medicine like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Additionally, opioids like tramadol, morphine, and codeine can be prescribed for more severe cases of acute pain, but they should only be used as a short-term solution and must be taken under the supervision of a doctor.
Chronic pain is similar to acute pain but lasts longer, often persisting for six or more months or even lasting years. Due to this longevity, chronic pain is often likened to a disease. It usually results from a previous injury or illness caused by nerve damage or inflammatory causes.
Common examples of chronic pain include low-back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and pain from various cancers. In some cases, breakthrough pain can occur, which is an intense flare-up of pain that happens even when taking medication.
Treatments for chronic pain include medications (such as antidepressants or muscle relaxants), physical therapy, lifestyle changes (like improving sleep habits or reducing stress), and complementary therapies like massage, acupuncture, or yoga. In some cases, Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can be used to manage chronic pain.
Neuropathic pain is a variation of pain that stems from the nervous system and occurs when nerves are damaged or diseased. This nerve pain typically feels like a sharp, stabbing, burning, shooting, or tingling sensation and can be caused by several conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, stroke, or HIV/AIDS.
You can manage neuropathic pain with medication, lifestyle changes, physical therapy, and other therapies such as acupuncture. The usage of anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and nonpharmacological treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy are also used in the treatment of neuropathic pain.
Nociceptive pain is when tissue injury affects your body’s nociceptors, also known as pain receptors. This tissue damage can feel like a sharp, aching, or throbbing pain. It can be caused by something as small as stubbing your toe, or something more serious like a sports injury or a dental procedure. Your doctor may give you NSAIDs, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, for pain relief.
Additionally, physical therapy may be recommended to help strengthen and stretch the affected muscles or joints. Alternative therapies such as acupuncture or yoga can help reduce symptoms of nociceptive pain as well.
Radicular pain is caused by a pinched nerve root in the spinal column. Radicular pain may feel like a numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness. The cause can be a herniated disc, bone spurs or arthritis, diabetes, nerve root injuries, or scar tissue from surgery. Symptoms can include deep and steady pain that make it hard to move around.
Treatments can include:
- Analgesics like acetaminophen or ibuprofen and physical therapy to help strengthen and stretch muscles/joints
- Epidural injections
- Acupuncture or yoga
- Decompressive surgery such as laminectomy/discectomy if other treatments don’t work
When to See a Doctor
Even though there are treatments you can use to manage pain, it’s essential to seek a healthcare professional at a certain point. In general, there are three key signs for when you should see a doctor:
- If the pain accompanies other symptoms like fever, or tingling of the affected area or extremities
- If the pain is exceptionally sharp, persistent, or otherwise debilitating, so much so that it interferes with your daily life
- If the pain affects your mobility and ability to work or enjoy hobbies
If you experience any of these signs, it’s best to see a healthcare provider for further evaluation and treatment options. They will be able to provide you with the best pain treatment for your case.