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Medically speaking, pain is an uncomfortable sensation that usually signals an injury or illness. Generally speaking, pain is the body’s way of telling you something isn’t right. This is the purpose of pain. It is meant to make you uncomfortable so if you are injured or sick, you will know you need to do something (or stop doing something). 

When you do something that hurts your body, your brain normally triggers the pain response. If you touch something hot, the pain you feel is your body’s way of telling you that you should stop touching the hot item and should take action to cool the skin. If you walk on an injured ankle and it hurts, that’s also your body telling you to stop. 

The perception of pain varies from person to person. One person might have a broken bone and not even realize it, while another might feel significant pain from that same injury. That’s because pain is mediated by nerve fibers in your body, and these nerve fibers have the job of sending pain signals to the brain (which happens very quickly). Once they find their way to the brain, the brain acts to make you aware of the pain. Because every person’s body is different, their nerve fibers and their brain can react differently to the same stimuli. That helps explain why pain perception and pain tolerance can differ so much from one person to another. 

Types of pain

We hear this question all the time: “What are the different types of pain?” 

This is both a simple and a complicated answer. There are five common types of pain, but some pain can fit into more than one category, which is where the complication comes in.

The five most common types of pain are:

  • Acute pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Nociceptive pain
  • Radicular pain

Acute pain

Acute pain means the pain is short in duration (relatively speaking), lasting from minutes to about three months (sometimes up to six months). Acute pain also tends to be related to a soft-tissue injury or a temporary illness, so it typically subsides after the injury heals or the illness subsides. Acute pain from an injury may evolve into chronic pain if the injury doesn’t heal correctly or if the pain signals malfunction.

Chronic pain

Chronic pain is longer in duration. It can be constant or intermittent. For example, headaches can be considered chronic pain when they continue over many months or years – even if the pain isn’t always present. Chronic pain is often due to a health condition, like arthritis, fibromyalgia, or a spine condition.

Neuropathic pain

Neuropathic pain is due to damage to the nerves or other parts of the nervous system. It is often described as shooting, stabbing, or burning pain, or it feels like pins and needles. It can also affect sensitivity to touch and can make someone have difficulty feeling hot or cold sensations. Neuropathic pain is a common type of chronic pain. It may be intermittent (meaning it comes and goes), and it can be so severe that it makes performing everyday tasks difficult. Because the pain can interfere with normal movement, it can also lead to mobility issues.  

Nociceptive pain

Nociceptive pain is a type of pain caused by damage to body tissue. People often describe it as being a sharp, achy, or throbbing pain. It’s often caused by an external injury. For example, if you hit your elbow, stub your toe, twist your ankle, or fall and scrape up your knee, you may feel nociceptive pain. This type of pain is often experienced in the joints, muscles, skin, tendons, and bones. It can be both acute and chronic.

Radicular pain

Radicular pain is a very specific type of pain can occur when the spinal nerve gets compressed or inflamed. It radiates from the back and hip into the leg(s) by way of the spine and spinal nerve root. People who have radicular pain may experience tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness. Pain that radiates from the back and into the leg is called radiculopathy. It’s commonly known as sciatica because the pain is due to the sciatic nerve being affected. This type of pain is often steady, and people can feel it deep in the leg. Walking, sitting, and some other activities can make sciatica worse. It is one of the most common forms of radicular pain.

How do I know if my pain is normal or if I should see a doctor?

Most pain is a normal response to injury or illness and doesn’t require a trip to the doctor. But how will you know if your pain is a sign of something serious? If you fall asleep in an awkward position and you wake up with neck or back pain, that’s most likely normal. If you get a minor (first degree) burn, the associated pain is normal and probably doesn’t require doctor’s attention. If stub your toe or bump your knee, short-term pain is normal.

As a rule, if your pain only lasts for the amount of time you’d expect it to and you know the cause, it’s probably normal. But if your pain is severe, lasts longer than you think it should for the injury or illness, or you don’t know what’s causing it, you may want to call your doctor. 

Here are some examples of both normal pain and the type of pain that requires medical attention.

Some causes of normal pain

  • A skinned elbow or knee
  • A minor burn
  • A pulled or strained muscle
  • A tension headache
  • Post-surgical pain at the incision site
  • A broken bone
  • A minor ankle sprain
  • Muscle, tendon, skin, or bone injury
  • Labor and delivery

Sometimes normal pain still requires a visit to the doctor or even the emergency room. If you have a serious injury, regardless of your pain severity or tolerance, you should see a doctor. If you have other symptoms besides pain, such as significant bleeding, joint or bone malformation, swelling, or difficulty performing normal, everyday tasks, seek medical attention. When in doubt, call your doctor. It’s always better to err on the site of caution than to take the chance that your injury or illness will get worse.

Some causes of pain that may require medical attention

  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Diabetes
  • A herniated disc in the neck or back
  • Cancer
  • Chronic migraine headaches
  • A compressed or pinched nerve
  • Sciatica
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

Pain Management at Beaumont 

At the Beaumont Centers for Pain Management and other locations, Beaumont uses the latest technology and pain management procedures to help patients with all forms of pain. We provide treatment from a multi-disciplinary perspective, individually tailoring care to meet each patient’s pain management needs.  Using the latest technology, we can offer interventions to reduce pain severity, improve quality of life, and increase physical functioning. Pain treatment at Beaumont is available through many different specialists in multiple disciplines.

Make an appointment at Beaumont

If you’re experiencing any type of pain, we can help. Call the Beaumont Physician Referral service today us today at 800-633-7377 to make an appointment and for assistance determining what Beaumont physician or clinic is the best choice for your pain management situation.