What is pain?


What are the different types of pain?

Different types of pain affect different parts of the body. Pain can affect:

Muscles, bones, and joints.

It also affects the ligaments and tendons. This pain can happen from injuries or muscle strain. Health problems like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia also can cause it.

Nerves and the nervous system.

This type of pain happens because of pressure on nerves or damage to them from an injury or a health problem. Problems with the central nervous system can sometimes cause pain. Diabetes, shingles, and sciatica are examples of health problems that cause nerve pain.


Pain in your organs occurs because of injuries, infections, or other health problems. These problems include cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, pelvic pain, and stomach ulcers.

You can have more than one kind of pain at the same time. For example, cancer can cause pain in your bones and your organs.

How is pain treated?

Many different treatments can ease pain. How your pain is treated usually depends on how long you've been in pain and how bad it is. Often the best approach is a mix of treatments.

You and your doctor will work together to find ways to manage your pain so you can feel better and do more for yourself. But you still may have some pain.

If you have pain for a long time, your treatment may change over time.

Treatments other than medicines

Often people think of starting with a medicine to treat pain. But there are many non-medicine treatments that may be just as helpful. Your doctor may recommend these treatments with or without medicine. Non-medicine treatments may include:

  • Physical treatments. This includes physical activity, massage, acupuncture, and heat or cold.
  • Behavioral health treatments. This includes cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
  • Mind-body treatments. This includes biofeedback, relaxation exercises, hypnosis, and yoga.

Medicines to treat pain

Several types of medicines can be used to treat pain. Most of them can treat more than one kind of pain. So you may need to try a couple of medicines to see which works best for you. Your doctor will work with you to find the right types and dosage of medicine. You may take more than one kind of medicine at the same time.

Medicines may include:

  • Over-the-counter medicines. This may include acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Advil).
  • Anticonvulsants. This includes gabapentin (such as Neurontin) and topiramate (such as Topamax).
  • Certain antidepressants. This includes duloxetine (such as Cymbalta), venlafaxine (such as Effexor), and amitriptyline.
  • Opioids. This includes acetaminophen and hydrocodone (such as Norco) and morphine (such as Kadian).

Other options may include:

  • Medicine you put on your skin. A variety of creams, gels, sprays, and patches may be used.
  • Injections. Medicine may be injected into the spine, near the nerves that affects the painful area, or into the painful joint or joints.

How can you get support when you're managing pain?

You may have to lean on family and friends if you're getting over an injury or surgery or if you live with pain much of the time.

It can be hard sometimes to ask for help. But don't be afraid to reach out. Other people can help you—and they may be eager to help. Along with asking your family and friends, you can seek support from:

A counselor.

A professional counselor can help you cope with pain, stress, and things that happen in your life. Counseling can help you understand and deal with an illness.

Your doctor.

Find a doctor you trust and feel comfortable with. Be open and honest about your fears and concerns. Your doctor can help you get the right medical treatments, including counseling.

Religious groups.

Religious or spiritual groups may help you meet people and get involved in the community. Some religious groups can help you get counseling or other social support services.

Social groups.

You can meet new people and get involved in activities you enjoy.

Community support groups.

In a support group, you can talk to others who have dealt with the same problems you have. You can encourage each other and learn ways of coping with your feelings.

What questions might your doctor ask you about your pain?

It is important to be open and honest about your pain. You don't have to pretend that you are strong or able to handle pain. Telling your doctor exactly how you feel is one of the most important parts of controlling pain. Your doctor may ask you:

  • Where do you feel pain?
  • What does it feel like? Sharp? Dull? Throbbing? Burning? Steady?
  • How strong is the pain?
  • How long does the pain last?
  • What reduces the pain? What makes it worse?
  • What medicines do you take, and how much do they help?
  • Which pain medicines have worked for you before? Which have not helped?
  • How are you coping with your situation?

Your doctor or nurse may ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10. A score of 0 means no pain. A score of 10 means the pain is as bad as it can be.

What is pain?

Pain is your body's way of warning you that something may be wrong. Pain can affect your emotions as well as your body. You may have pain from an injury, after surgery, or from a health problem like cancer, osteoarthritis, low back pain, headaches, or fibromyalgia.

Your body feels pain through nerves in your skin and organs. These nerve endings send pain signals to your brain.

Pain may last for a short time or a long time. It may come and go, or it may be constant.

Pain that starts quickly and lasts for a short time is called acute pain. Examples include pain from an injury, a headache, childbirth, or right after surgery.

Pain that goes on for months or years is called chronic pain. You may have this pain from an injury that doesn't heal or from a health problem like low back pain, very bad headaches, or nerve problems called neuropathy.

How can you know when your pain is getting worse?

Pain can get worse slowly. So it can be hard to tell if your pain is getting worse, especially if you've had it for a while. But you can look for signs. You may notice that:

  • You have new pain. It may feel different or be in a new area.
  • Your pain treatment no longer works. Or maybe it doesn't work like it used to.
  • Your medicine wears off too soon between doses.
  • Your pain gets in the way of daily activities, like eating and sleeping.

Using a pain scale and a pain diary can help you know how much pain you're having. A pain scale lets you rate your pain level as it changes. A pain diary is a record of your pain and how treatment is working. These tools also can help you tell your doctor what your pain feels like so that he or she can help you.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.