According to the Huffington Post, one in three Americans suffer from daily pain and “the financial cost due to pain tops more than half a trillion dollars per year.” But not all pain is the same across the board. Pain is personal and thereby subjective, with individuals experiencing various levels of intensity and types of pain based on factors related to age, gender, family history, injuries and more.
— Mayo Clinic (@MayoClinic) February 27, 2016
There are two general classifications for types of pain: acute and chronic.
“On the most basic level, pain can be classified as two types: acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). Acute pain results mostly from injury to our tissues due to trauma, inflammation or disease. In most cases, this type of pain is self-limiting and can be easily localized, diagnosed, and treated. In some cases, acute pain can lead to chronic pain. In contrast, chronic pain is present over an extended period of time and is more difficult to treat. This type of pain can be made worse by environmental and psychological factors.”
Pain can also be classified based on how it is activated in the body.
“Something called nociceptive pain occurs when specific receptors on cells are activated. This can be in response to temperature, vibration, stretching, or chemical signals released from damaged cells. This type of pain can be somatic, meaning it’s associated with musculoskeletal elements of the body like skin, muscles, and bones. Somatic pain is localized and can be distinguished by the ability to activate the pain by touch or movement. There is another type of nociceptive pain called visceral. As the term implies, it involves our internal organs like the kidneys, liver, or gastrointestinal tract. Visceral pain is harder to localize and is usually described as more of an ache. Intestinal cramps are an example of this type of pain.
The other large category of pain is referred to as non-nociceptive. Non-nociceptive pain does not require the action of specific receptors. The source of this pain can be the nervous system directly. Non-nociceptive pain can originate in the pathway between a specific tissue and the spinal cord, such as the pain from a shingles infection. Alternatively, this pain can occur farther along the pathway, between the spinal cord and the brain, such as the pain of a slipped disc. The other type of non-nociceptive pain is called sympathetic pain. In this case, a damaged nerve becomes unstable and fires randomly, which is interpreted by the body as pain. This can occur after a tissue injury or a bone fracture.”
Nerve pain specifically can occur symptomatically as a result of shingles, diabetes, cancer and HIV, and can have serious consequences that limit daily activity. Pain sensations can range from aches and burning to pins and needles and shooting pains. According to WebMD, “studies show that people with nerve pain have higher rates of sleep problems, anxiety, and depression.” These issues may result from chronic, or long-term pain.
— Sean Wheeler, MD (@DrSeanWheeler) February 19, 2016
Although pain can cause both short-and long-term discomfort, pain actually serves an important purpose–it alerts the brain and may even prevent injury. Pain sensations are what tell our bodies that something is wrong or trigger a reactive response that may prevent further pain, like when you step on a nail or stub your toe.
According to WebMD:
“That’s how it’s supposed to work, at least. But in people with nerve pain, that messaging system isn’t working correctly. Your brain receives a pain signal, and you feel the pain, but there’s no actual cause. Now, it’s just pain without a purpose–and because there’s no cause, there’s no immediate way to relieve it.
What makes the nerves behave this way? Usually, it’s damage from a physical injury or disease.”
In some of the most painful conditions like neuropathy and fibromyalgia, distinguishing between the type of pain and the disease can prove difficult. For example, people with peripheral neuropathy, often caused by diabetes, or fibromyalgia, which results from pain processing problems in the central nervous system, may experience similar symptoms. Usually affected individuals experience tingling, pins and needles, numbness and weakness in the hands and feet.
We may not look sick….
— MyFibroTeam (@MyFibroTeam) February 24, 2016
In the case of fibromyalgia, symptoms come and go, whereas with neuropathy, symptoms are generally constant. People with fibromyalgia can additionally experience tender points on the body and pain in muscles and joints. When testing for either type of condition through biopsies or electrical impulse tests, neuropathy patients typically show peripheral nerve damage, while those with fibromyalgia do not usually show nerve abnormalities. People with fibromyalgia often experience burning, tingling and shooting pains in the neck, shoulders, arms, lower back and legs.
Treatments for general pain, nerve pain or other conditions resulting in chronic pain may include exercise, changes to diet including dietary supplements, massage, acupuncture, electrical stimulation and more.
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