Pain - Definition and Types Explained

Pain is an important warning sign of physical harm or injury

The feeling of physical pain is generally described as an unpleasant sensation or distressing experience of being aware of harm to the body. Humans experience pain in a variety of ways and from a variety of causes, but most commonly we experience pain that is related to injury or illness.

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines pain as "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage."

Why Do We Experience Pain?

Pain is a natural defense mechanism that is triggered, much like a reflex, to protect us from a painful stimulus. Pain is an important warning sign that something is wrong.

Common Areas of Pain

Describing Muscle or Joint Pain

Nothing sends people to the doctor faster than experiencing pain. How you describe pain can help your doctor determine the cause and find an effective treatment. Because the experience of pain is highly subjective, it's helpful to provide details about your pain, including:

  • Where is the pain located?
  • When did the pain begin?
  • What does the pain feel like? (sharp, dull, aching, shooting, gnawing, etc.)
  • What is the intensity of the pain from 1 to 10?
  • Is your pain constant or intermittent?
  • Does anything make the pain worse?
  • Does anything make the pain better?

Types of Pain

  • Acute - of rapid onset and short-lived, or
  • Chronic - develops slowly and is persistent and long-lasting.

    Is It Pain Or Muscle Fatigue?

    The physical pain of illness or injury is very closely related to the pain of delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS, although it is not caused by the same mechanism that causes the discomfort of muscle fatigue during exercise.

    Finding Relief From Pain

    The most common treatments for muscle and joint pain include ice, heat and using pain relieving medications.

    You can learn more about the benefits and limitations of each type of pain relief technique in the following articles:


    IASP Pain Terminology, The International Association for the Study of Pain, Nov. 2008.

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