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Pain Types: Where it Hurts and How to talk to your doctor

We all feel pain. It’s a human trait. In fact, it’s vital to have the sensation of pain as a communication relay between nerves, spinal cord, and the brain as a safety mechanism of the body. It’s how we know the sharp pain associated with touching the pot of boiling water on the stove, or the shooting pain of a leg cramp. Pain is how the body knows something has happened and to take notice.

Pain reveals itself in many ways. Perhaps it’s facial pain brought on by a headache, sinuses, or TMJ (temporomandibular joints), or maybe joint discomfort like hand and wrist pain, or elbow pain, knee, hip, or back pain brought on by injury. There are actually many different types of pain in various categories. Since there is a high probability that you have or will have to tell a healthcare professional about pain you experience, it’s important to understand pain classifications and know how to clearly and effectively communicate the pain you’re experiencing. Proper pain description to your doctor is crucial to relieving your pain symptoms. Here is a guide to understanding the various pain types and how you can describe your pain to your medical team.

Contact National Spine & Pain Centers to schedule an appointment with an affiliated pain specialist today.

Types of Pain and Classifications

There are different types of pain, usually classified by how they are brought on.

  1. Acute Pain

There is acute pain, which lasts only a short amount of time. It is a temporary sensation associated with sudden injury or illness. It will subside when the trauma is over. Although temporary, it can be intense pain before it improves. Some of the common causes of acute pain are childbirth, broken bones, surgery, dental work, cuts, and burns.

  1. Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is generally considered long standing pain that persists beyond the expected recovery period of acute pain or it can occur alongside a chronic health condition.

The CDC says about 50 million Americans have chronic pain, which means they experience pain for a long period of time. Chronic pain can be constant or intermittent. It is most commonly back pain, headache pain, joint pain like arthritis, fibromyalgia, or illness related.

Chronic pain is tricky. Because even if you are being treated with medication for a chronic pain condition, about 70 percent of people will experience breakthrough pain, which is a flare-up of pain despite the use of medication.

Experts try to do all they can for patients with chronic pain conditions because ongoing pain may not only hurt physically but is likely to affect a patient’s overall spirits and mental health. Chronic pain may often lead to depression and anxiety.

  1. Neuropathic pain

This is a common type of chronic pain. Neuropathic pain is nerve or nervous system damage. Patients say it feels like shooting, stabbing, or burning pain, or it feels like pins and needles. Because of that, it may affect the sense of touch, making it difficult to perceive hot or cold. The pain may be intermittent or constant, making everyday tasks difficult, often affecting mobility.

  1. Nociceptive pain

This is body tissue pain, which can be acute or chronic, often caused by an external injury like hitting your elbow, stubbing your toe, twisting your ankle, or scraping your knee. The pain is experienced in the joints, muscles, skin, tendons, and bones.

  1. Radicular pain

This is a specific type of pain that occurs when the spinal nerve gets compressed or inflamed. Patients experience pain from the back and hip, commonly known as sciatica. It’s a steady pain felt deep in the leg, affecting walking, sitting, or any leg-related activity.

Describing Pain

After seeing the different types of pain and classifications, you can understand why clearly communicating the type of pain you have to a pain management specialist is crucial to discovering the best pain-relieving treatments. Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience. We all feel pain in different ways, which makes deciphering your particular pain experience important. But your healthcare provider, like the pain management specialists at National Spine & Pain Centers, wants to improve your quality of life by eliminating or minimizing your pain.

That’s why, if you seek medical attention for pain you are experiencing, you will hear the doctor ask you to describe your pain. The problem is pain is very subjective, and everyone’s threshold of pain varies. A simple scrape on the knee may be excruciating to one person and not even felt by another.

This is why communicating effectively is important. The pain management specialist will need to know how long you’ve experienced the pain, what triggers it, and how long it lasts. Often, journaling the pain will provide important details for your physician and make you, the patient, less reliant on how good your memory has been. Writing down details is important information for the doctor.

In an effort to serve patients in the best possible way, healthcare providers have developed many ways to make communication easier.

Pain Description Charts

Pain description charts are used to visualize different types of pain, the location of pain, and the intensity of pain, so there are clear communication lines between doctor and patient. These aids are important, as doctors may have patients who may be non-verbal, like young children or adults with low literacy function, language barriers, or varying degrees of cognitive ability.

One vital tool used is a graphic of a human figure with a front and back view. Patients indicate the location of their pain by pointing out the part of the body that hurts.

Additionally, there are four varieties of pain charts used by medical professionals:

  • The visual analog scale – Categorizes pain along a horizontal line, ranging from mild to severe.
  • Faces pain scale – Uses a horizontal line, illustrated by facial expressions to represent different pain levels.
  • The verbal rating scale A person describes their level of pain in words. Examples of pain descriptions include: sharp stabbing pain, extreme heat or burning sensation, extreme cold, throbbing, swollen, inflamed tissue, sensitivity to contact/touching, itching, numbness, tingling, pins and needles, aching, biting, burning, cramping, dull, gnawing, heavy, hot, piercing, pinching, sharp, shooting, sickening, sore, splitting, stabbing, tender, tingling, and throbbing.
  • The numerical scale – Measures pain on a scale of 1 to 10.

This measurement tool has pain explained on a scale of 1 to10 and looks like this:

No Pain

0 Pain-free

Manageable Pain

1 – Mild

2 Minor

3 Noticeable

Moderate Pain — Disrupts normal daily living activities

4 Moderate pain

5 – Moderately strong pain

6 Moderately strong pain that interferes with normal daily activities

Severe Pain — Disabling; debilitating, reduces daily quality of life, cannot live independently

7 – Severe pain

8 – Intense pain

9 – Excruciating pain

10 – Unspeakable pain

Common Pain

Even normal pain that everyone experiences may need medical attention. It’s always best to have a healthcare provider put eyes on you, especially if your pain is accompanied by bleeding or swelling. Give a pain management specialist a call if there’s any doubt in your mind that your pain may signal a significant problem or progress to something worse. Remember, even if it appears minor, or others have experienced it and been fine; if it is affecting your ability to do everyday activities or affecting your quality of life mentally or physically, it’s important to seek medical advice. Common pain problems can be cuts on the skin, minor burns, pulled or strained muscles, sprains, headaches, or broken bones.

The Difference Between Muscle or Bone Pain

Experts say it is sometimes difficult to differentiate muscle from bone pain. However, bone pain will often feel deeper, sharper, and more intense than muscle pain. Bone pain is associated with conditions like osteoporosis, cancer, infection, and injury. Chronic bone pain can be felt with degenerative issues like arthritis in the joints, feel like achiness, and last for a long time.

Muscle pain feels more generalized throughout the body and may ease within a few days or weeks.

If you are experiencing any type of worrisome pain condition, it’s best to seek a qualified pain management specialist, from here, at the National Spine & Pain Centers, to receive proper medical diagnosis and treatment for your condition. Find a doctor to get back on the road to recovery and improve your quality of life.

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