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The 13 types of pain: classification and characteristics

The 13 types of pain: classification and characteristics

December 5, 2021

Whether acute or chronic, in the head, back or tooth, pain can seriously interfere with a person's life and can be highly disabling . The pain appears after a trauma or it may be the symptom of an injury or illness that we did not know about.

Whatever the cause, pain can emerge in different places and with different intensity. In this article we review the different types of pain .

One of the first causes of medical visit

Pain is a very unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that we have all experienced at some time . It is one of the most frequent reasons for a medical visit and represents a serious problem for a large part of the population. In Spain it is estimated that 6 million adult individuals suffer pain, that is, 17.25% of the adult population.


And is that the pain affects the lives of individuals causing serious emotional and psychological problems, and is even, in many cases, grounds for sick leave. The suffering associated with pain completely invades all the emotional and cognitive processes that are taking place in our mind and turn our attention to intense suffering. When the pain accompanies us, our life changes completely.

  • Recommended article: "The 8 worst pains that human beings suffer"

The operation of pain

Years ago, the idea that the perception of pain depended only on physical damage, in which the receptors of the affected area sent signals to the brain and simply felt pain, was obsolete. The insufficiency of this theory to explain pains like that of the phantom limb (when a person loses a limb of the body but still feels pain in that area even though it is no longer there), caused the world of science to mobilize to find answers to the question of why people feel pain


One of the most significant findings is that of Ronald Melzack, which gave rise to the neuromatrix theory . This theory explains that the diffusion of pain and the transmission of pain by the organism is due to a complex system involving various areas of the central and peripheral nervous system, autonomic nervous system and endocrine system, directly influenced by various psychological, emotional factors , genetic and social. This idea is later than the one formulated in 1965 by Melzack himself and Patrick Wall, called the Theory of the Control Gate.

According to the Theory of the Control Gate, pain is composed of three dimensions:

  • Sensory or Discriminative : are the properties of the physical pain.
  • Motivational or Affective : relative to the emotional phenomena of it.
  • Cognitive or Evaluative : in reference to the interpretation of pain based on attentional aspects, previous experiences, the sociocultural context, among others.

In other words, the perception of pain is not direct, but there is a modulation of the message at the level of the spinal cord . In order to feel the pain, it is necessary for the brain to receive the message. This implies that in order to experience pain, the arrival of this information is necessary, but before arriving at its destination, there is a gateway that, depending on whether it opens or closes, the pain is felt or not. The control gate depends on physical, emotional and cognitive factors.


The types of pain that exist

Pain can be classified in different ways. Below you can find a list of different types of pain.

Depending on the duration

Depending on its duration, pain can be classified in different ways.

1. Acute

This type of pain acts as a warning of real or imminent pain, it is short-lived and it contains a scarce psychological component, since it does not give time to think about it and the implications of that injury that causes it. An example is the pain that arises after a bruise or a musculoskeletal fracture.

2. Chronic pain

Chronic pain is lasts more than six months . The prevalence of this type of pain in European populations of approximately 20%. It is accompanied by the psychological component, since in addition to being an unpleasant experience in and of itself, it is a constant reminder that there are certain parts of the body that are failing or that do not work as they should. It is, for example, the pain suffered by cancer patients.

If you want to know more about chronic pain, you can read our article: "Chronic pain: what it is and how it is treated from Psychology"

Depending on the source of the pain

According to the source, the pain can be ...

3. Physical pain

Physical pain is a painful sensation that really exists in some part of the body . It can be the result of a light blow or a trauma of gravity (for example, a break), poor posture or illness. Some examples are: back pain or toothache.

4. Emotional pain

Emotional pain is a subjective experience in which the person has a wound that nobody sees . The causes may be different: a breakup of a couple, a change of city, the dismissal of a job ... Regardless of the cause, it has its origin in not knowing how to manage the change of life and by not having the necessary resources to face the new situation.

  • If you are interested in going deeper into this topic, you can do so by visiting our article: "The 10 keys to dealing with emotional pain"

5. Psychological pain

Psychological pain may seem the same as emotional pain, but it is not exactly like that. Psychological pain is what is known as somatization of pain , which has its origin in an emotional state (stress, anxiety, sadness, etc.) and is reflected at a physical level or in the form of illness.

Depending on the pathogenesis

According to the pathogenesis, pain can be classified into the following.

6. Neuropathic

Neuropathic pain is a throbbing pain , burning and usually characterized by the sensation of increased pain produced just after the injury. Its cause is a direct stimulus in the CNS or a lesion in the nerve pathways. Some examples are: post-chemotherapy peripheral neuropathy or spinal cord compression.

7. Nociceptive

It is the most common. It occurs by the stimulation of an intact nervous system that functions normally . It is a type of pain beneficial for the organism since it is a protective action to avoid major damage and proceed to repair the tissue and its regeneration. There are two types: somatic and visceral.

8. Psychogenic

Unlike the previous two, its cause is not the nociceptive stimulation or the neuronal alteration, but its cause is psychological . Some psychic variables that influence this pain are certain beliefs, fears, memories or emotions. It is a real pain and, therefore, requires psychiatric treatment of the cause.

Depending on the location

Depending on the location, the pain is classified as ...

9. Somatic

Occurs by the abnormal excitation of somatic nociceptors in the skin, muscles, joints, ligaments or bones . Treatment should include administration of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

10. Visceral

It is produced by the abnormal excitation of visceral nociceptors, and can affect areas far from the place where it originated . Colic, pain of liver metastases and pancreatic cancer are examples of this type of pain. For its treatment, opioids are used.

Depending on the intensity

According to its intensity, the pain can be ...

11. Mild

It is less intense pain . The person with this type of pain can perform daily activities. The pain can become so low that under certain circumstances it is not perceived and "disappears" completely simply because of the distractions or the correct management of the attentional focus.

For example, in many cases the inflammation of the gums produces a slight pain (without that it removes that it can get to become a serious problem if it goes to more).

12. Moderate

A pain with a certain intensity that interferes with daily activities , although it does not totally incapacitate the person and in general this can continue to have an autonomous life to a greater or lesser extent. It requires treatment with minor opioids.

13. Severe

The most intense pain . It not only interferes with daily activities, but also with rest. Its treatment requires major opioids and incapacitates the person who makes it dependent on third parties, whether friends, family members or caregivers.

Other kinds of pain

In addition to the previous ones, depending on the affected area there are different types of pain: back pain, headaches and migraines, toothache, etc. It is worth mentioning a very painful disease called fibromyalgia, characterized by a chronic muscle pain of unknown origin, accompanied by a feeling of fatigue and other symptoms.

Likewise, a pain that has aroused much interest in the scientific field is ghost pain , produced by the ghost member, a term introduced by Silas Weir Mitchell in 1872, and suffered by some people who have lost an arm, a leg or an organ and who continue to experience the sensations of amputated limbs.

  • You can learn more about this curious phenomenon in our article: "The phantom limb and the mirror box therapy"

How Many Different Types Of Pain Are There? (December 2021).


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