Pain categorised by location
When we talk about head pain (which includes migraine and other headache types),ii body pain (e.g. back and neck pain)ii and toothache, we’re categorising pain by location.
To be more specific, we’re categorising pain by perceived location. This is an important distinction to make because there is such a thing as ‘referred pain’, which is when we feel pain in a different part of the body than where it actually starts.iv For example, you may know that one of the first symptoms of a heart attack can be pain in the arm or shoulder – but did you know that it can also be preceeded by pain in the teeth or jaw?iv
Pain categorised by cause
In some instances, we talk about pain in relation to the condition that is causing it. For example, arthritis pain is both a type of pain as well as a disease that causes pain.iii
Pain categorised by the affected body system
Pain can also be defined based on the system in the body that is affected by.iii When we talk about pain in this way, we might talk about tissue pain, which can be caused by an injury such as a sprained ankle or a burn, or nerve pain, which can be caused by conditions such as shingles or sciatica.v
Acute vs chronic pain
Finally, we can also classify pain by how long it lasts. This is when we start talking about acute pain vs chronic pain.
There are some key differences between acute and chronic pain, including:
- How long the pain lasts. Acute pain lasts for fewer than three months, while chronic pain is defined by the World Health Organization as pain that persists or recurs for longer than three months.X
- How well the pain responds to treatment. Acute pain will usually improve after treatment, whereas chronic pain usually will not respond at all to many treatments.vi
- The type of treatment required to ease the pain. Over-the-counter treatments for pain very rarely have any kind of side effect, when used as directed, but some of the treatments used to treat chronic pain may cause harm or side effects.vi If you suffer from any form of chronic pain, speak to a healthcare professional about which treatment options may be right for you.