All pain is not created equal. Short-term pain, also known as acute pain, warns the body of a physical threat or disease requiring immediate attention. Chronic pain, classified as pain lasting longer than three months, is not so much a warning sign as the disease itself. Affecting an estimated 30 percent of the adult population of the U.S., chronic pain can be the result of an underlying injury that hasn’t healed, or it can be pain that lingers even though the injury healed long ago. Chronic pain can also be pain that seems to have no originating cause. In fact, “chronic pain” is a broad term that can be broken down into multiple categories. These categories can help pain management specialists develop targeted treatment plans because every type of pain must be approached and treated with great care and specificity.
Defining Your Pain Type
Most chronic pain can be divided into the following broad categories:
Neuropathic pain develops when peripheral or central nerves are damaged and spontaneously transmit pain signals to the spinal cord and brain. This type of pain is often described as sharp, stabbing, or shooting. It can be challenging to treat because it’s difficult to pinpoint just where and how the nerves are damaged. Examples of neuropathic pain include peripheral neuropathy, sciatica, post-mastectomy pain, phantom limb pain, and post-herpetic neuralgia.
Nociceptive pain can be detected in the body’s organs or soft tissues, such as muscles and skin, by specialized sensory receptors on the nerves called nociceptors. These receptors are activated when there’s an injury, but they sometimes don’t turn off, continuing to send pain messages even after the injury heals. Nociceptive pain can be further broken down into two categories:
Somatic pain refers to pain from injuries to the outer body, such as the muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, skin, and soft tissues. This pain is usually sharp or throbbing, depending on the part of the body affected, and is easy to pinpoint. Examples of somatic pain include rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, gout, back pain not caused by nerves, pelvic pain from joint instability, and tension headaches.
Visceral pain originates in the major internal organs of the abdomen and chest cavity. This type of pain is best described as deep, dull and vague, and can be challenging to pinpoint. Examples of visceral pain include endometriosis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and prostate pain.
Pain caused by psychological factors, such as depression or anxiety, is called psychogenic pain. Mental and emotional issues can cause, increase or prolong the pain. A person with psychogenic pain may complain of pain that doesn’t match their symptoms. Psychogenic pain often manifests as headaches, muscle aches, and pains, stomach pains, or fatigue.
Sensory hypersensitivity is pain without identifiable nerve or tissue damage, existing without any known physical or psychological cause. In people with sensory hypersensitivity, there is an exaggerated immune response to external stimuli. Research suggests that the pain associated with fibromyalgia — an example of sensory hypersensitivity — is caused by a malfunction in the way the body processes pain. This malfunction results in a hypersensitivity to stimuli that are not normally painful and intense, unpleasant responses to things that affect the senses.
Correct Diagnosis Is Vital
If you suffer from chronic pain, particularly if your pain is not the direct result of a noticeable injury or disease, figuring out what type of pain you have can be difficult. Working with a pain management specialist is the best way to get your pain properly diagnosed. With the right diagnosis, you’ll also get a treatment regimen that is best matched to your pain. At PMIR Medical Center, our pain management specialists use the latest technologies and most advanced equipment to diagnose and manage your pain accurately. Our continuum of services includes innovative, minimally invasive procedures and non-narcotic pain-relief methods. If you’d like to learn more about options for addressing your chronic pain, we encourage you to book an appointment today.