Pain is a universal experience. We’ve all stubbed our toes or experienced headaches in our lives.
There are different kinds of pain. For example, the pain of a paper cut vastly differs from the pain from that of a severe illness or personal injury. In 2021, 20.9 percent of US adults reported chronic pain.
For this reason, doctors and other health professionals use various idea systems to classify and determine the kind of pain a person is experiencing. Proper pain classification is essential in ensuring a person gets adequate treatment.
Read below to learn more about the ideas behind pain classification and how one can better manage it.
| Key Takeaways |
|Ideas on Pain Classification||Category/Classification Method||Description|
|Pathophysiology||Nociceptive||Nociceptive pain occurs from tissue damage.|
|Neuropathic||Neuropathic pain occurs from nervous system damage.|
|Nociplastic||Nociplastic pain occurs due to distorted or sensitized pain processing.|
|Anatomical location||Somatic||Somatic pain occurs in the skin, bones, joints, and muscles.|
|Visceral||Visceral pain occurs in the organs.|
|Duration||Acute||Acute pain is sudden and resolves in three to six months.|
|Chronic||Chronic pain lasts longer than six months.|
|Etiology||Cancer||Pain from cancer requires more aggressive treatments.|
|Non-cancer||Non-cancerous pain requires less aggressive treatment methods.|
|Intensity||Numerical Rating Scales||Patients choose a number from zero to 10, 20, or 100 to indicate the intensity of pain they are experiencing.|
|Visual Analogue Scales||A Visual Analogue Scale consists of a line with points zero to 10. The patient will mark their pain level using the scale.|
|Verbal Rating Scales||Verbal rating scales use words to describe the patient’s pain intensity.|
|Faces pain rating scales||Faces pain rating scales use pictures of facial expressions to determine the patient’s pain intensity.|
Pain arises as signals travel through the nerves and into the brain for interpretation, causing discomfort in one or more parts of the body.
There are different kinds of pain and various ways to describe it. Pain can feel different from person to person. It can feel sharp or dull. It can be quick and sudden or last a long time.
For this reason, scientists and health professionals use different ways to classify pain. These different principles and ideas for classification help people manage their pain, identify its causes, and treat it if possible.
Classification through pathophysiology
One of the most recognized classifications of pain is through pathophysiology, or the changes that occur to cause that pain. There are three main types of pain under this classification: nociceptive, neuropathic, and nociplastic pain.
- Nociceptive pain. Most of us are familiar with nociceptive pain. This type of pain occurs from non-neural tissue damage, which sends pain signals to the brain. It comes from trauma, inflammation, or non-healing injuries.
Examples of nociceptive pain include cuts, burns, nausea, inflammatory arthritis, strain injuries, etc.
- Neuropathic pain. This type of pain comes from malfunction or damage to the nervous system instead of external injuries or physical damage. If your nerve tissues suffer from damage, it may send pain signals to the brain.
Neuropathic pain may lead to sensations like burning, sharpness, tingling, numbness, or extreme sensitivity.
- Nociplastic pain. Nociplastic pain, or central sensitization, occurs when a person experiences pain without tissue or nervous system damage. It comes from dysfunction, not damage.
One of the most well-known examples of nociplastic pain is fibromyalgia. This condition comes with widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and other issues. Other examples include nonspecific chronic low-back pain, unexplained headaches, and complex regional pain syndrome.
Classification through anatomical location
Another way to classify pain is by determining where it originates. When using this principle, there are two kinds of pain.
- Somatic pain. This pain occurs in the skin, bones, muscles, and joints. A person experiences somatic pain when stimuli activate pain receptors in these areas. These stimuli can include temperature, force, vibration, or swelling.
People who experience somatic pain may describe it as sharp, aching, gnawing, or cramping.
- Visceral pain. This pain occurs in the pelvis, chest, abdomen, and intestines. People often experience visceral pain when they injure their internal organs or tissues.
Visceral pain can be challenging to describe but may feel like an internal squeeze, ache, or pressure.
Classification through duration
Health professionals also classify pain by how long it lasts. With this classification method, there are two types of pain.
- Acute pain. This type of pain comes suddenly and has a specific, identifiable cause. It usually resolves within three to six months. Some causes of acute pain can include cuts, burns, surgery, broken bones from accidents, and childbirth.
- Chronic pain. Compared to acute pain, chronic pain is ongoing and persists long-term. It lasts over six months, even when its primary cause heals or disappears. Some people may also experience chronic pain without any apparent injury or tissue damage.
Chronic pain can manifest in conditions like arthritis, cancer, fibromyalgia, nerve pain, and back pain.
Classification through etiology
Etiology refers to the study of the manner of causation of certain conditions.
When classifying pain, health professionals usually divide the types of pain into those caused by cancer and those that aren’t. Pain that comes with cancer may require more aggressive treatment methods compared to other kinds of pain.
Classification through intensity
Healthcare professionals use different scales to measure the magnitude of a person’s experienced pain, such as:
- Numerical Rating Scales (NRSs). Patients choose a number from zero to 10, 20, or 100 to indicate the intensity of pain they are experiencing.
- Visual Analogue Scales (VASs). A Visual Analogue Scale consists of a line marked from zero to 10. The patient will indicate their pain level using the line.
- Verbal Rating Scales (VRSs). Verbal rating scales use words to describe the patient’s pain intensity. Patients can use words like mild, moderate, or severe to assess their pain.
- Faces pain rating scales. Faces pain rating scales use pictures of facial expressions to determine the patient’s pain intensity.
These scales allow patients to provide a subjective measurement of the pain they experience. While these scales aren’t exact, it helps patients communicate their experience with their healthcare provider and helps with pain management.
The Importance of Pain Classification
Pain is a complex concept, and having only one way to classify its different types and manifestations can be limiting. For this reason, doctors and healthcare professionals often use one or more ways to classify pain in their patients.
Aside from adequately describing pain, classification is necessary to help assess and evaluate patients receiving care.
Determining the type of pain a person experiences helps healthcare providers offer the right treatment plans. Proper treatment can help ease patients’ pain and discomfort.
Benefits of Pain Management
After determining the type of pain a person experiences, it’s essential to provide a pain management strategy to help them cope. Pain management is crucial to handle the effects of the different types of pain. It is particularly important for people suffering from chronic pain due to its extended nature.
Here are some of the critical benefits patients can gain from pain management:
Pain can cause stress and increase a person’s blood pressure, leading to a state of distress. These conditions can also affect a person’s mental health.
Reducing pain symptoms through pain management helps people cope with this stress. Pain management methods like medication or assistive equipment can help people regain mobility and boost their mood.
Pain management techniques help control the effects and discomfort of pain. They also help patients gradually improve their strength and physical capabilities, allowing them to perform tasks without too much strain.
Improved quality of life
Physical pain, especially in chronic conditions, can severely impact different aspects of a person’s life. Pain management helps mitigate some of these adverse effects.
Aside from easing physical pain, good pain management helps improve a person’s capabilities and mindset. Physical and mental improvement can significantly help the overall healing and treatment process.
Physical Pain Management Techniques
There are several ways to manage pain. Some physical techniques for pain management include physical therapy, hot and cold therapy, massage, and acupuncture.
Physical therapy involves different physical techniques to strengthen and stretch a person’s joints and muscles. A physical therapist could recommend exercises, perform massages, and other methods to relieve pain and strengthen the body.
Hot and cold therapy
Heat therapy uses heating pads, saunas, steamed towels, or hot baths to improve circulation and blood flow. It helps relax muscles, increase flexibility, and heal damaged tissue.
Cold therapy or cryotherapy reduces blood flow to a particular area. This method can reduce inflammation and swelling and temporarily slow nerve activity, which relieves pain.
Common methods include ice packs, baths, massages, or coolant sprays. Therapists can also include cold in stretches and exercises to enhance their effects. Whole-body cold therapy chambers are also available.
Massages are a form of soft-tissue manipulation, offering significant benefits in managing pain. They can be particularly effective when used with other pain management techniques.
The benefits of massage include the following:
- Improved circulation
- Reduced stiffness
- Improved flexibility and posture
- Reduced inflammation
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese practice involving placing needles on particular points on the skin to help with health problems. It has since been adopted by practitioners worldwide to provide pain relief and manage certain health conditions.
Its benefits include pain relief, relaxation, reduced inflammation, and reduced muscle spasms. It’s best to work with a trained practitioner when using acupuncture for pain management.
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Mind-Body Pain Management Techniques
Physical pain impacts the body and mind. Managing both physical and mental effects can translate to better pain management.
Here are some pain management techniques to address both aspects:
Cognitive behavior therapy
Pain treatments can include psychological methods like talk therapy, support groups, and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). CBT can help manage the adverse effects pain can induce on a person’s mental health.
While CBT may not directly affect pain’s physical manifestations, it can help improve a person’s mindset and reduce anxiety.
Tai chi is a low-impact exercise technique that can help with pain management. It involves slow, fluid body movements combined with breathing techniques that are relatively gentle on the joints and muscles.
This exercise can help gradually improve a person’s strength and flexibility. It can also help with relaxation and enhances a person’s mood.
Yoga is another mind-body exercise that can help manage the effects of pain. It combines physical movements, breath control, and meditation to improve strength, flexibility, and relaxation.
This practice originated in India with thousands of years of history. It is also highly accessible. Patients can work with an instructor, join a studio, or perform exercises at home through online tutorials.
While physical and mental exercises can help alleviate some pain symptoms, medication is still necessary in some cases. Some drugs can easily be purchased over the counter, while others require a doctor’s prescription.
Over-the-counter pain relievers
Common over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines include the following:
- Acetaminophen. Commonly known as Tylenol, this medication increases the pain threshold by blocking the enzymes that cause a person to feel pain.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). This group of medicines reduces inflammation, relieving pain as a result. Common examples include aspirin compounds and ibuprofen.
- Combination. Some OTC drugs contain a combination of acetaminophen and aspirin.
- Topicals. Topical medications block pain receptors. Patients will apply them on the skin, and they usually come in the form of creams, gels, sprays, and patches.
Prescription medications aren’t as easy to obtain as OTC painkillers. These drugs require a doctor’s prescription to ensure safety and minimize misuse or abuse.
Here are some prescription drugs you could take to relieve or manage pain:
- Antidepressants. These drugs handle neurotransmitters in the brain, which can help with chronic pain. Tricyclics and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are the most common antidepressants in pain management.
- Opioids. These lab-made narcotics change how your brain processes pain signals and are mainly used to treat chronic or severe pain. However, they can be addictive, so they require a doctor’s prescription.
- Anti-seizure medications. These drugs interrupt pain signals to the brain, making them effective for pain management and relief.
- Muscle relaxers. As the name suggests, these drugs relieve pain and muscle spasms by relaxing the muscles.
- Steroids. Steroids reduce pain by inhibiting the production of chemicals that cause inflammation and irritation.
- Topicals. Some topical drugs are powerful and require a prescription. These drugs can help ease pain associated with fibromyalgia, arthritis, and muscle pain.
Precautions for Pain Medication
Pain medications can be highly effective in managing symptoms and relieving pain. However, proper use and good habits are essential to maximize their effectiveness and mitigate their harmful effects.
Poor medication management not only alters a drug’s effects, but it can also cause adverse side effects and even harm the person it is supposed to help. Here are some precautions to remember when taking OTC or prescription pain medications.
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Follow the instructions
Before taking your first dose, read the instructions for your medication. Doctors’ prescriptions also come with instructions for prescription drugs.
Take note of the proper dosage, schedule, and other vital instructions. For example, some meds require eating beforehand, while others work better on an empty stomach. Avoid taking larger or smaller doses, as these may alter the desired effects of the medication.
Understand the side effects
Some drugs, particularly the stronger ones, may come with side effects. Some side effects are minor, such as headaches or dry mouth. However, others can be more severe, such as liver damage and severe bleeding.
For this reason, it’s essential to be aware of a drug’s side effects. If you can, talk them through with your doctor so they can offer advice on your treatment options. Understanding the side effects of your medication helps you manage them better.
Communicate honestly with your doctor
Certain medications may not work well with preexisting conditions or habits. For this reason, it’s crucial to talk with your doctor about your medical history, the other medications you take, and whether you drink or smoke.
These factors may impact the way certain drugs work in your system. With this knowledge, your doctor or healthcare provider can help adjust your medications or prescriptions to fit your needs.
Use other pain management strategies
While medicines can be effective in relieving pain, they are but one aspect of providing holistic treatment. Pain management also requires improving one’s physical capabilities and mental health.
Using other pain management techniques like the physical and mind-body strategies discussed above can help improve your overall quality of life.
It’s not always ideal, but there may be times when you encounter problems with your medications. These problems can include side effects or unexpected reactions.
Regardless of the issue, take it up with your doctor or healthcare provider. It might seem insignificant to you, but leaving issues unaddressed could cause bigger problems.
Improve Quality of Life Through Pain Classification and Management
Pain, especially when chronic or severe, can be challenging to handle. It causes physical discomfort and adds to one’s mental load. For this reason, it’s crucial to determine the kind of pain you’re dealing with and find ways to manage it.
Exploring different techniques and strategies can help alleviate some of the physical and mental discomforts of pain. Consulting a doctor or health professional is essential to avoid further damage and ensure you get the best treatment possible.
Frequently Asked Questions on Pain Ideas
Can you stop taking pain medications once you feel better?
No. You should only stop taking your medications once you finish your prescription or if your doctor says it’s okay. Not following the proper dosage and prescription can alter the effectiveness of your medication.
Are pain medications addictive?
Yes. Some pain medications, especially prescription painkillers, can have addictive properties. Always follow your doctor’s instructions to prevent addiction.
Are there positive effects of pain ideas?
Some people get inspiration and channel their experience of pain into artwork and other endeavors. Pain can also make people more empathetic.
However, it’s essential to avoid romanticizing pain, considering it causes significant damage and lasting issues. Proper pain management can help people suffering from pain deal with their experience more effectively.
Do natural remedies work in pain management?
Yes, to a certain extent. Some people use essential oils like lavender, rosemary, and peppermint to soothe pain and improve relaxation. Alternative practices like meditation can also be helpful. However, these remedies might not be as powerful or effective as prescribed drugs and medical therapies.
Suffering from pain due to injury or medical malpractice?
Acute and chronic pain can have various causes, including accidents, injuries, or medical errors. Your priority should always be your health, which is why getting medical assistance is necessary.
However, it is also important to advocate for your rights, especially if your pain is the result of another person’s actions. The Personal Injury Center aims to educate people on their rights.
If you plan to pursue legal action, our team can help you find the best lawyer for your case. Lawyers and legal professionals can help you advocate for your rights to fair compensation.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes. It should not be taken as medical or legal advice. Always consult with a qualified professional for any health or legal concerns.