Understanding the Different Forms of Physical Pain

November 8, 2018

While it goes without saying that no one is typically a fan of pain, maybe it’s possible to think about pain in a new, less negative way. Try thinking about pain as one of your body’s most important communication tools.

If you felt nothing when you were stung by a wasp or when you put your hand on a hot stove, your body wouldn’t know that something was wrong and needed attention. Similarly, if you have back pain or migraine headaches, that’s your body’s way of letting you know that something is probably going on that you need to know about.

Regardless of this more positive way of looking at it, physical pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience. It can be caused by many things, and there are many different types of pain, such as:

  • Acute pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Breakthrough pain
  • Bone pain
  • Soft tissue pain
  • Nerve pain


Acute Pain and Chronic Pain

Differentiating between acute and chronic pain is usually pretty simple. Acute pain typically comes on suddenly and has a limited duration. This is often caused by damage to tissue such as bone, muscle, or organs, and the onset may be accompanied by anxiety or emotional distress.

Chronic pain lasts longer and is usually somewhat resistant to medical treatment. It’s often associated with a long-term illness, such as osteoarthritis. In cases like fibromyalgia, it’s one of the defining characteristics of the disease. Chronic pain can be the result of damaged tissue, but it is often caused by nerve damage.

Both acute and chronic pain can be debilitating, physically and emotionally. However, because chronic pain tends to be ongoing and can be almost constant in some cases, it makes the person dealing with it more likely to struggle with depression and anxiety.

Breakthrough Pain

About 70% of those who have chronic pain that is treated with pain medication experience episodes of breakthrough pain. This refers to flares of pain that occur even when pain medication is being used regularly. Sometimes it can be spontaneous or set off by a seemingly insignificant event such as rolling over in bed. And sometimes it may be the result of pain medication wearing off before it’s time for the next dose.

Bone Pain

Bone pain typically involves extreme tenderness, aching, or other discomfort in one or more bones. One significant difference from other types of pain is that it’s often present whether you’re moving or not. Injury is a common cause of bone pain, and the pain is also commonly linked to diseases that affect the normal function or structure of the bone. People in the late stages of osteoporosis often have bone pain, the most common type of bone disease caused by a deficiency in calcium and vitamin D.


Soft Tissue Pain

Most pain comes from tissue damage. The pain stems from an injury to the body’s soft tissues or organs. This injury may be caused by a disease such as cancer, or it can come from a physical injury such as a cut or broken bone. Soft tissue pain may feel like an ache, a sharp stabbing, or throbbing. It could be acute or chronic, and it could also be breakthrough pain, caused when you laugh, roll over in bed, or take a deep breath.


Nerve Pain

Nerves transmit signals to and from the brain, including pain signals. When there has been damage to the nerves it can interfere with the way the signals are transmitted and cause pain signals that are abnormal. For instance, you may feel a burning sensation even though no heat is being applied to the area that burns. Nerves can be damaged by diseases such as diabetes, or they can be damaged by trauma. Certain chemotherapy drugs may cause nerve damage, as can strokes and HIV infections. The pain caused by nerve damage is called neuropathic pain, and is often described as a burning, prickling, pins and needles, or stabbing sensation.

Remember that pain does not feel the same for everyone. Describing your pain as clearly as possible will help your doctor find the best treatment for you. You will be asked by your healthcare team where the pain is, what it is like ( dull, sharp, burning, tingling), how bad it is, and when it happens. To prepare for your appointment and these types of questions, keeping a pain diary or notebook for several days prior can help you explain your pain better.


Southside Pain Specialists is your one-stop for pain management with a multitude of pain relief options tailored to your specific needs. Southside Pain Specialists follows the standards of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, The American Board of Pain Medicine and the International Spinal Injection Society and works hard to provide patients comprehensive, caring pain relief when they need it most. Check out our website or contact us today at 205.332.3155 to learn more.