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What is pain and the different types?
WELLNESS

What is pain and the different types?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes pain as ‘an unpleasant sensory or emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage’. Pain is there to alert the body that something is wrong and needs to be addressed to prevent further damage.

The three stages of pain 

There are three different types of pain which make up the pain cycle. Each stage is dependent on the severity, duration and nature of the injury where the pain occurs.

The first stage, acute pain, is often associated with nociceptive pain which is felt when the nervous system initially detects damage or potential damage to the body and sends an alert signal to the brain. This is often experienced when we touch a hot iron or slamming your fingers in the door or is even classified as the initial stage of an injury. It is highly responsive to pain-alleviating medications and usually subsides in a short time.

The second stage of pain is associated with nociceptive inflammatory pain, which is when the body detects tissue damage and begins signalling the beginning of the inflammatory process. It is a more serious response and activates the inflammatory process, which is necessary to help protect and support the damaged area and begin the healing process. The immune system is activated and the presence of inflammation acts to discourage further use of the area until healing occurs. This type of pain response is experienced in situations such as broken bones, sprained ankles and back pain.

The third stage of pain that may be experienced, is Neuropathic pain which occurs when there is damage or injury to the nerves themselves and is often described as burning, prickling or like an electric shock shooting pain. Neuropathic pain is difficult to alleviate unlike nociceptive pain, which responds rapidly to pain-alleviating medication. Neuropathic pain is often experienced in people with herniated or bulging discs, shingles, carpal tunnel syndrome or conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

Prevalence of Pain in Australians

Unfortunately for many Australians, pain is a daily reality. Did you know that in 2018, 3.24 million Australians were living with chronic pain?1 Over half of these people reported that the pain was so debilitating that it restricted their daily activities such as work, school or even just going to buy groceries. Pain doesn’t discriminate between age groups, the majority of pain sufferers are older Australians or those with a disability. That doesn’t mean that younger people aren’t impacted too, pain in younger children may often be overlooked due to their lack of communication skills or older children may have their complaints simply dismissed as stress or anxiety.

Pain is always subjective, everyone feels pain differently, we all have different pain thresholds and tolerance levels, but pain is pain. It is your body telling you that something is wrong and it is of the utmost importance to have thorough investigations into what is causing the pain in the first place.

Pain can also have an emotional impact. In Australia those who suffer from chronic pain experience depression at a rate of four times that of those who do not experience ongoing pain. Chronic pain can also have a detrimental effect on relationships and because pain is invisible, sufferers may become stigmatised or misunderstood by colleagues and friends, which may then go on to affect their social and work life.

References

https://www.painaustralia.org.au
https://systematicreviewsjournal.biomedcentral.com

Felicity Downes-Casipit

Author

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