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To paraphrase Cole Porter’s famous 1926 song, What is this thing called pain?: “This funny thing called pain, just who can solve its mystery?”

Pain, like love, may be all consuming. When you have it “bad,” not much else matters. Unlike love, however, science is actually beginning to tease apart the mystery of pain. Substantial progress has been made over the last decade in revealing the genes, molecules, cells, and circuits that determine the sensation of pain.

In this short article, we demystify some of the pain terminology. In medicine, pain relates to a sensation that hurts. Our body contains cell receptors that, if stimulated, are translated by the brain as pain. As well, damage to or malfunctioning of our nervous system is translated as pain.

There are two types of pain: acute and chronic. If the sensation is intense and short lived, it is called acute pain. When the pain sensation lasts longer, it is called chronic pain. It may be mild or intense and severe.

In general, pain is classified based on its source location.

If specific pain receptors are stimulated, then the resulting pain is called Nociceptive Pain. Nociceptive in this context means responding to pain. Pain felt by receptors on the skin, muscle, joints, bones and ligaments is called Somatic Pain. These pain receptors are sensitive to temperature (hot/cold), vibration, and stretch (in the muscles). Pain felt in the internal organs and main body cavities is called Visceral Pain. These receptors sense inflammation, stretch and ischemia (oxygen starvation).

If pain comes from within the nervous system it is known as nerve or neuropathic pain. It is called Non-nociceptive Pain because there are no specific pain receptors. When a nerve is injured, it becomes unstable and its signaling system becomes muddled and haphazard and this randomness can also cause other sensations, such as numbness, pins and needles, tingling, and hypersensitivity to temperature, vibration and touch.

When pain is felt either next to, or at a distance from, the origin of an injury, it is called Referred Pain. It is also known as reflective pain. For example, when a person has a heart attack, even though the affected area is the heart, the pain is sometimes felt around the shoulders, back and neck, rather than in the chest.

To complete the analogy, as with love, pain is a very individual experience: only the person who is experiencing the pain can describe it properly, and although there is reliable methodology, it is virtually impossible to measure the intensity of pain objectively.

Pain also affects each of us on other than the biological level. Psychologically pain affects us across the wide spectrum from an annoyance to depression, and socially it can change relationships, be they personal or professional, right across to changing who you are.

At Dorval Physiotherapy in Oakville, our mission is to help you to reduce and remove pain. You will receive our undivided attention so that we can help you reach your maximum physical potential and live a better life.


What is pain? What causes pain?

What is this thing called pain?

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