The 13 types of pain: classification and characteristics

Whether acute or chronic, in the head, back or thigh, pain can seriously interfere with a person’s life and can be very disabling. Pain appears after trauma or can be a symptom of an injury or illness that we were not aware of.

Whatever the cause, pain can emerge in different places and with different intensity. In this article, we review the different types of pain.

One of the first causes of a medical visit

Pain is a very unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that we have all experienced before. It is one of the most common reasons for a medical visit and represents a serious problem for a large part of the population. In Spain, around 6 million adults suffer from pain, or 17.25% of the adult population.

And it is that pain affects the lives of individuals causing serious emotional and psychological problems, and is even, in many cases, the reason for a work stoppage. The suffering associated with pain completely invades all emotional and cognitive processes that take place in our mind and causes all of our attention to turn to intense suffering. When pain accompanies us, our lives change completely.

    How pain works

    Years ago, the idea that the perception of pain depended solely on physical damage became obsolete, in which receptors in the affected area would send signals to the brain and simply feel pain. The insufficiency of this theory to explain pains like that of the phantom limb (when a person loses a limb but still feels pain in that area even if it is no longer there), has pushed the world of science to mobilize to find answers to the question of why we feel pain in people.

    One of the most significant discoveries is that of Ronald Melzack, which led to the theory of neurotransmission.. This theory explains that the spread of pain and its transmission through the body is due to a complex system involving several areas of the central and peripheral nervous system, autonomic nervous system and endocrine system, directly influenced by various psychological factors., Emotional, genetic and social. This idea follows on from one formulated in 1965 by Melzack and Patrick Wall himself, called Control Gate Theory.

    According to the control gate theory, pain consists of three dimensions:

    • Sensory or discriminatory: These are the physical properties of pain.
    • Motivating or emotional: Relating to the emotional phenomena of it.
    • Cognitive or evaluative: In the benchmark interpretation of pain based on attentional aspects, previous experiences, socio-cultural context, among others.

    In other words, the perception of pain is not direct, but there is a modulation of the message at the level of the spinal cord. To feel pain, the brain needs to receive the message. This implies that in order to feel the pain the arrival of this information is necessary, but before reaching its destination there is a door of entry which, depending on whether it opens or closes, the pain is felt. or not. The gate of control depends on physical, emotional and cognitive factors.

    The types of pain that exist

    Pain can be classified in different ways. Below is a list of the different types of pain.

    Depending on the duration

    Depending on its duration, pain can be classified in different ways.

    1. Acute

    This type of pain acts as a warning of real or impending pain, it is short-lived and it contains a weak psychological component, because it does not leave time to think about itself and the implications of the injury which causes it. An example is the pain that occurs after a bruise or a musculoskeletal fracture.

    2. Chronic pain

    Chronic pain lasts more than six months. The prevalence of this type of pain in European populations of around 20%. It is accompanied by the psychological component, because besides being an unpleasant experience in itself, it is a constant reminder that there are certain parts of the body that fail or do not function as they should. This is, for example, the pain that cancer patients suffer from.

    If you want to know more about chronic pain, you can read our article: “Chronic pain: what is it and how it is treated by psychology”

    Depending on the source of the pain

    Depending on the source, the pain may be …

    3. Physical pain

    Physical pain is a painful sensation that actually exists somewhere in the body. This can be the result of a slight blow or severe trauma (for example, a break), poor posture, or illness. Some examples: back pain or toothache.

    4. Emotional pain

    Emotional pain is a subjective experience in which the person has an injury that no one sees. The causes can be different: a breakup, a change of city, the dismissal of a job … Whatever the cause, it finds its origin in the fact of not knowing how to manage the change of life and of not having the resources needed to deal with them. the new situation.

    • If you want to dig deeper into this topic, you can do so by reading our article: “The 10 Keys to Dealing with Emotional Pain”

    5. Psychological pain

    Psychological pain may seem the same as emotional pain, but it isn’t quite. Psychological pain is what is called somatization of pain, Which originates in an emotional state (stress, anxiety, sadness, etc.) and is reflected physically or in the form of illness.

    Depending on the pathogenesis

    Depending on the pathogenesis, pain can be classified as follows.

    6. Neuropathic

    Neuropathic pain is stabbing painBurning and is usually characterized by the sensation of increased pain produced immediately after the injury. Its cause is a direct stimulus in the CNS or damage to the nerve pathways. Some examples: post-chemotherapy peripheral neuropathy or spinal cord compression.

    7. Harmful

    This is the most common. It occurs by stimulating an intact nervous system that is functioning normally. It is a type of pain that is beneficial to the body because it is a protective action to prevent further damage and proceed to tissue repair and regeneration. There are two types: somatic and visceral.

    8. psychogenic

    Unlike the previous two, its cause is not nociceptive stimulation or neuronal damage, but its cause is psychological. Some psychic variables that influence this pain are certain beliefs, fears, memories or emotions. It is a real pain and therefore requires psychiatric treatment of the cause.

    Depending on the location

    Depending on the location, the pain is classified into …

    9. Somatic

    Occurs by abnormal excitation of somatic nociceptors on the skin, muscles, joints, ligaments or bones. Treatment should include the administration of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

    10. Visceral

    It is caused by abnormal excitation of visceral nociceptors and can affect areas far from the site of origin.. Colic, liver metastases, and pancreatic cancer are examples of this type of pain. Opioids are used for their treatment.

    Depending on the intensity

    Depending on its intensity, the pain may be …

    11. Take

    It is the least intense pain. The person with this type of pain may have daily activities. The pain can become so weak that in some circumstances it goes unnoticed and “goes away” altogether simply due to distractions or good management of attentional focus.

    For example, in many cases the inflammation of the gums produces mild pain (without taking away the fact that it can become a serious problem if it goes any further).

    12. Moderate

    Pain of a certain intensity that interferes with daily activities, Although this does not completely invalidate the person and in general the person can continue to have an independent life to a greater or lesser extent. Requires treatment with minor opioids.

    13. Break up

    The most intense pain. It not only interferes with daily activities, but also with rest. Its treatment requires major opioids and incapacitates both the person who makes them dependent on others, whether they are friends, family or caregivers.

    Other types of pain

    In addition to the above, depending on the affected area, there are different types of pain: back pain, headaches and migraines, toothaches, etc. It is worth mentioning a very painful disease called fibromyalgia, characterized by chronic muscle pain of unknown origin, accompanied by a feeling of fatigue and other symptoms.

    Also, a pain that has generated a lot of interest in science is phantom pain, Produced by the phantom limb, a term introduced by Silas Weir Mitchell in 1872, and suffered by some people who have lost an arm, leg, or organ and continue to experience the sensations of amputated limbs.

    • You can learn more about this curious phenomenon in our article: “The therapy of phantom limbs and mirror boxes”

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