Understanding Pain

Many of us have experienced pain in some degree throughout the course of our lives. We may understand what pain can feel like, but it can still be difficult to fully define. A good definition of pain is "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage."

While most definitions give the scientific description of pain, the emotional and physical effects can be difficult to describe, as they vary from person to person. The following sections are available to help you better understand pain so that you can seek proper treatment from your pain specialist.

What Causes Pain

When you experience pain, it is your body's natural response to actual or potential damage. In other words, your body is protecting you—even when it might feel like it isn't. The feeling of pain is triggered when special nerve endings, called pain receptors, cause electrical signals to be sent to the brain through the spinal cord. The brain then recognizes these electrical signals as "pain."

Acute and Chronic Pain

If you are feeling pain, it can be experienced through two categories: Acute and Chronic. With both categories of pain, the pain experienced can be mild, moderate or severe.

Acute pain refers to pain that occurs immediately after an injury and lasts no longer than two months when treated properly. On the other hand, chronic pain is any type of pain that lasts six months or longer. Chronic pain can be difficult to treat because:

  • The source or cause can be hard to determine
  • Pain varies from one person to the next
  • People with the same kind of chronic pain may need different treatments

Impact of Pain

Today, pain is one of the most common reasons Americans seek medical treatment, with back pain as the leading reason. An estimated 26 million Americans between the ages of 20-64 visit their doctor because they are experiencing frequent back pain. Other common painful conditions include:

  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Knee pain
  • Hip pain
  • Neck pain
  • Migraine headaches
  • Jaw and lower facial pain

Since a person can be in severe pain without any visible marks or injury, family members and others close to the person in pain may not understand what is happening. By visiting your pain specialist, you can find relief from your acute or chronic pain so that you can live a normal lifestyle once again.

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