Injured Bystrov.JPG

A sports player in pain.
ICD-10 R52
ICD-9 338
DiseasesDB 9503
MedlinePlus 002164
MeSH D010146

Pain is an unpleasant sensation often caused by intense or damaging stimuli such as stubbing a toe, burning a finger, putting iodine on a cut, and bumping the "funny bone."[1]

It motivates withdrawal from damaging or potentially damaging situations, protection of a damaged body part while it heals, and avoidance of similar experiences in the future.[2] Most pain resolves promptly once the painful stimulus is removed and the body has healed, but sometimes pain persists despite removal of the stimulus and apparent healing of the body; and sometimes pain arises in the absence of any detectable stimulus, damage or disease.[3]

Pain is the most common reason for physician consultation in the United States.[4] It is a major symptom in many medical conditions, and can significantly interfere with a person's quality of life and general functioning.[5] Psychological factors such as social support, hypnotic suggestion, excitement in sport or war and distraction can significantly modulate pain's intensity or unpleasantness.[6][7]



In 1994, responding to the need for a more useful system for describing chronic pain, the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) classified pain according to specific characteristics: (1) region of the body involved (e.g., abdomen, lower limbs), (2) system whose dysfunction may be causing the pain (e.g., nervous, gastrointestinal), (3) duration and pattern of occurrence, (4) intensity and time since onset, and (5) etiology.[8] This system has been criticized by Woolf and others as inadequate for guiding research and treatment,[9] and an additional category based on neurochemical mechanism has been proposed.[10]


Pain is usually transitory, lasting only until the noxious stimulus is removed or the underlying damage or pathology has healed, but some painful conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, peripheral neuropathy, cancer and idiopathic pain, may persist for years. Pain that lasts a long time is called chronic, and pain that resolves quickly is called acute. Traditionally, the distinction between acute and chronic pain has relied upon an arbitrary interval of time from onset; the two most commonly used markers being 3 months and 6 months since the onset of pain,[10] though some theorists and researchers have placed the transition from acute to chronic pain at 12 months.[11] Others apply acute to pain that lasts less than 30 days, chronic to pain of more than six months duration, and subacute to pain that lasts from one to six months.[12] A popular alternative definition of chronic pain, involving no arbitrarily fixed durations is "pain that extends beyond the expected period of healing."[10] Chronic pain may be classified as cancer pain or benign.[12]


Nociceptive pain is caused by stimulation of peripheral nerve fibers that respond only to stimuli approaching or exceeding harmful intensity (nociceptors), and may be classified according to the mode of noxious stimulation; the most common categories being "thermal" (heat or cold), "mechanical" (crushing, tearing, etc.) and "chemical" (iodine in a cut, chili powder in the eyes).

Nociceptive pain may also be divided into "visceral," "deep somatic" and "superficial somatic" pain. Visceral structures are highly sensitive to stretch, ischemia and inflammation, but relatively insensitive to other stimuli that normally evoke pain in other structures, such as burning and cutting. Visceral pain is diffuse, difficult to locate and often referred to a distant, usually superficial, structure. It may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting and may be described as sickening, deep, squeezing, and dull.[13] Deep somatic pain is initiated by stimulation of nociceptors in ligaments, tendons, bones, blood vessels, fasciae and muscles, and is dull, aching, poorly-localized pain. Examples include sprains and broken bones. Superficial pain is initiated by activation of nociceptors in the skin or other superficial tissue, and is sharp, well-defined and clearly located. Examples of injuries that produce superficial somatic pain include minor wounds and minor (first degree) burns.[11]


Neuropathic pain is caused by damage or disease affecting any part of the nervous system involved in bodily feelings (the somatosensory system).[14] Peripheral neuropathic pain is often described as “burning,” “tingling,” “electrical,” “stabbing,” or “pins and needles.”[15] Bumping the "funny bone" elicits acute peripheral neuropathic pain.


Phantom pain is pain from a part of the body that has been lost or from which the brain no longer receives signals. It is a type of neuropathic pain. Phantom limb pain is a common experience of amputees.

The prevalence of phantom pain in upper limb amputees is nearly 82%, and in lower limb amputees is 54%.[16] One study found that eight days after amputation, 72 percent of patients had phantom limb pain, and six months later, 65 percent reported it.[17][18] Some amputees experience continuous pain that varies in intensity or quality; others experience several bouts a day, or it may occur only once every week or two. It is often described as shooting, crushing, burning or cramping. If the pain is continuous for a long period, parts of the intact body may become sensitized, so that touching them evokes pain in the phantom limb, or phantom limb pain may accompany urination or defecation.[19]

Local anesthetic injections into the nerves or sensitive areas of the stump may relieve pain for days, weeks or, sometimes permanently, despite the drug wearing off in a matter of hours; and small injections of hypertonic saline into the soft tissue between vertebrae produces local pain that radiates into the phantom limb for ten minutes or so and may be followed by hours, weeks or even longer of partial or total relief from phantom pain. Vigorous vibration or electrical stimulation of the stump, or current from electrodes surgically implanted onto the spinal cord all produce relief in some patients.[19]

Work by Vilayanur S. Ramachandran using mirror box therapy allows for illusions of movement and touch in a phantom limb which in turn cause a reduction in pain.[20]

Paraplegia, the loss of sensation and voluntary motor control after serious spinal cord damage, may be accompanied by girdle pain at the level of the spinal cord damage, visceral pain evoked by a filling bladder or bowel, or, in five to ten per cent of paraplegics, phantom body pain in areas of complete sensory loss. This phantom body pain is initially described as burning or tingling but may evolve into severe crushing or pinching pain, fire running down the legs, or a knife twisting in the flesh. Onset may be immediate or may not occur until years after the disabling injury. Surgical treatment rarely provides lasting relief.[19]


Psychogenic pain, also called psychalgia or somatoform pain, is pain caused, increased, or prolonged by mental, emotional, or behavioral factors.[21] Headache, back pain, and stomach pain are sometimes diagnosed as psychogenic.[22] Sufferers are often stigmatized, because both medical professionals and the general public tend to think that pain from a psychological source is not "real". However, specialists consider that it is no less actual or hurtful than pain from any other source.[23]

People with long term pain frequently display psychological disturbance, with elevated scores on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory scales of hysteria, depression and hypochondriasis (the "neurotic triad"). Some investigators have argued that it is this neuroticism that causes acute injuries to turn chronic, but clinical evidence points the other way, to chronic pain causing neuroticism. When long term pain is relieved by therapeutic intervention, scores on the neurotic triad and anxiety fall, often to normal levels. Self-esteem, often low in chronic pain patients, also shows improvement once pain has resolved.[24]

“The term 'psychogenic' assumes that medical diagnosis is so perfect that all organic causes of pain can be detected; regrettably, we are far from such infallibility... All too often, the diagnosis of neurosis as the cause of pain hides our ignorance of many aspects of pain medicine.”

Breakthrough pain

Breakthrough pain is pain that comes on suddenly for short periods of time and is not alleviated by the patients' normal pain suppression management. It is common in cancer patients who commonly have a background level of pain controlled by medications, but the pain periodically "breaks through" the medication. The characteristics of breakthrough cancer pain vary from person to person and according to the cause.

Incident pain

Incident pain is pain that arises as a result of activity, such as movement of an arthritic joint, stretching a wound, etc.

Pain asymbolia and insensitivity

The ability to experience pain is essential for protection from injury, and recognition of the presence of injury. Episodic analgesia may occur under special circumstances, such as in the excitement of sport or war: a soldier on the battlefield may feel no pain for many hours from a traumatic amputation or other severe injury.[25]

Although unpleasantness is an essential part of the IASP definition of pain,[26] it is possible to induce a state described as intense pain devoid of unpleasantness in some patients, with morphine injection or psychosurgery.[23] Such patients report that they have pain but are not bothered by it, they recognize the sensation of pain but suffer little, or not at all.[27] Indifference to pain can also rarely be present from birth; these people have normal nerves on medical investigations, and find pain unpleasant, but do not avoid repetition of the pain stimulus.[28]

Insensitivity to pain may also result from abnormalities in the nervous system. This is usually the result of acquired damage to the nerves, such as spinal cord injury, diabetes mellitus (diabetic neuropathy), or leprosy in countries where this is prevalent.[29] These individuals are at risk of tissue damage due to undiscovered injury. People with diabetes-related nerve damage, for instance, sustain poorly healing foot ulcers as a result of decreased sensation.[30]

A much smaller number of people are insensitive to pain due to an inborn abnormality of the nervous system, known as "congenital insensitivity to pain".[28] Children with this condition incur carelessly repeated damage to their tongue, eyes, joints, skin, and muscles. They may attain adulthood, but have a reduced life expectancy. Most people with congenital insensitivity to pain have one of five hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathies (which includes familial dysautonomia and congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis).[31] These conditions feature decreased sensitivity to pain together with other neurological abnormalties, particularly of the autonomic nervous system.[28][31] A very rare syndrome with isolated congenital insensitivity to pain has been linked with mutations in the SCN9A gene, which codes for a sodium channel (Nav1.7) necessary in conducting pain nerve stimuli.[32][33]

Effect on functioning

Experimental subjects challenged by acute pain and patients in chronic pain experience impairments in attention control, working memory, mental flexibility, problem solving, and information processing speed.[34] Acute and chronic pain are also associated with increased depression, anxiety, fear, and anger.[35]

"If I have matters right, the consequences of pain will include direct physical distress, unemployment, financial difficulties, marital disharmony, and difficulties in concentration and attention…"
—Harold Merskey 2000[36]


Aristotle did not include a sense of pain when he enumerated the five senses; he, like Plato before him, saw pain and pleasure not as sensations but as emotions ("passions of the soul").[37]

Specificity theory

Descartes' pain pathway: "Particles of heat" (A) activate a spot of skin (B) attached by a fine thread (cc) to a valve in the brain (de) where this activity opens the valve, allowing the animal spirits to flow from a cavity (F) into the muscles causing them to flinch from the stimulus, turn the head and eyes toward the affected body part, and move the hand and turn the body protectively.[38]

The specificity theory, which states that pain is "a specific sensation, with its own sensory apparatus independent of touch and other senses,"[39] emerged in the nineteenth century, but had been prefigured in the 11th century by Avicenna, who thought there are a number of feeling senses including touch, pain and titillation,[37] and René Descartes who traced a pain pathway in his 1664 Treatise of Man.[38]

Scottish anatomist Charles Bell proposed in 1811 that there exist different kinds of sensory receptor, each adapted to respond to only one stimulus type.[40] In 1839 Johannes Müller, having established that a single stimulus type (e.g., a blow, electric current) can produce different sensations depending on the type of nerve stimulated, hypothesized that there is a specific energy, peculiar to each of five nerve types that serve Aristotle's five senses, and that it is the type of energy that determines the type of sensation each nerve produces.[41] He considered feelings such as itching, pleasure, pain, heat, cold and touch to be varieties of the single sense he called "feeling and touch."[42] Müller's doctrine killed off the ancient idea that nerves carry actual properties or incorporeal copies of the perceived object, marking the beginning of the modern era of sensory psychology, and prompted others to ask, do the nerves that evoke the different qualities of touch and feeling have specific characteristics?[37]

Filippo Pacini had isolated receptors in the nervous system which detect pressure and vibrations in 1831. Georg Meissner and Rudolf Wagner described receptors sensitive to light touch in 1852; and Wilhelm Krause found a receptor that responds to gentle vibration in 1860.[43] Moritz Schiff was first to definitively formulate the specificity theory of pain when, in 1858, he demonstrated that touch and pain sensations traveled to the brain along separate spinal cord pathways.[37] In 1882 Magnus Blix reported that specific spots on the skin elicit sensations of either cold or heat when stimulated, and proposed that "the different sensations of cool and warm are caused by stimulation of different, specific receptors in the skin."[43] Max von Frey found and described these heat and cold receptors and, in 1896, reported finding "pain spots" on the skin of human subjects.[41] Von Frey proposed there are low threshold cutaneous spots that elicit the feeling of touch, and high threshold spots that elicit pain, and that pain is a distinct cutaneous sensation, independent of touch, heat and cold, and associated with free nerve endings.[43]

Intensive theory

In the first volume of his 1794 Zoonomia; or the Laws of Organic Life,[44] Erasmus Darwin supported the idea advanced in Plato's Timaeus, that pain is not a unique sensory modality, but an emotional state produced by stronger than normal stimuli such as intense light, pressure or temperature.[45] Wilhelm Erb, in 1874, also argued that pain can be generated by any sensory stimulus, provided it is intense enough, and his formulation of the hypothesis became known as the intensive theory.[37]

Alfred Goldscheider (1884) confirmed the existence of distinct heat and cold sensors, by evoking heat and cold sensations using a fine needle to penetrate to and electrically stimulate different nerve trunks, bypassing their receptors. Though he failed to find specific pain sensitive spots on the skin, Goldscheider concluded in 1895 that the available evidence supported pain specificity, and held the view until a series of experiments were conducted in 1889 by Bernhard Naunyn.[46] Naunyn had rapidly (60–600 times/second) prodded the skin of tabes dorsalis patients, below their touch threshold (e.g., with a hair), and in 6–20 seconds produced unbearable pain. He obtained similar results using other stimuli including electricity to produce rapid, sub-threshold stimulation, and concluded pain is the product of summation. In 1894 Goldscheider extended the intensive theory, proposing that each tactile nerve fiber can evoke three distinct qualities of sensation – tickle, touch and pain – the quality depending on the intensity of stimulation; and extended Naunyn's summation idea, proposing that, over time, activity from peripheral fibers may accumulate in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, and "spill over" from the peripheral fiber to a pain-signalling spinal cord fiber once a threshold of activity has been crossed.[37][43] The British psychologist, Edward Titchener, pronounced in his 1896 textbook, "excessive stimulation of any sense organ or direct injury to any sensory nerve occasions the common sensation of pain."[37]

Competing theories

By the mid-1890s, specificity was mainly backed by physiologists (prominently by von Frey) and clinicians; and the intensive theory received most support from psychologists. But after Henry Head in England published a series of clinical observations between 1893 and 1896, and von Frey's experiments between 1894 and 1897, the psychologists migrated to specificity almost en masse, and by century's end, most textbooks on physiology and psychology were presenting pain specificity as fact, with Titchener in 1898 now placing "the sensation of pain" alongside that of pressure, heat and cold. Though the intensive theory no longer featured prominently in textbooks, Goldscheider's elaboration of it nevertheless stood its ground in opposition to von Frey's specificity at the frontiers of research, and was supported by some influential theorists well into the mid-twentieth century.[37][39]

William Kenneth Livingston advanced a summation theory in 1943, proposing that high intensity signals, arriving at the spinal cord from damage to nerve or tissue, set up a reverberating, self-exciting loop of activity in a pool of interneurons, and once a threshold of activity is crossed, these interneurons then activate "transmission" cells which carry the signal to the brain's pain mechanism; that the reverberating interneuron activity also spreads to other spinal cord cells that trigger a sympathetic nervous system and somatic motor system response; and these responses, as well as fear and other emotions elicited by pain, feed into and perpetuate the reverberating interneuron activity. A similar proposal was made by RW Gerard in 1951, who proposed also that intense peripheral nerve signalling may cause temporary failure of inhibition in spinal cord neurons, allowing them to fire as synchronized pools, with signal volleys strong enough to activate the pain mechanism.[39]

Pattern theory

Building on John Paul Nafe's 1934 suggestion that different cutaneous qualities are the product of different temporal and spatial patterns of stimulation, and ignoring a large body of strong evidence for receptor fiber specificity, DC Sinclair and G Weddell's 1955 "peripheral pattern theory" proposed that all skin fiber endings (with the exception of those innervating hair cells) are identical, and that pain is produced by intense stimulation of these fibers.[39] In 1953, Willem Noordenbos had observed that a signal carried from the area of injury along large diameter "touch, pressure or vibration" fibers may inhibit the signal carried by the thinner "pain" fibers - the ratio of large fiber signal to thin fiber signal determining pain intensity; hence, we rub a smack. This was taken as a demonstration that pattern of stimulation (of large and thin fibers in this instance) modulates pain intensity.[47]

Gate control theory

Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall introduced their "gate control" theory of pain in the 1965 Science article "Pain Mechanisms: A New Theory".[48] The authors proposed that both thin (pain) and large diameter (touch, pressure, vibration) nerve fibers carry information from the site of injury to two destinations in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord: transmission cells that carry the pain signal up to the brain, and inhibitory interneurons that impede transmission cell activity. Activity in both thin and large diameter fibers excites transmission cells. Thin fiber activity impedes the inhibitory cells (tending to allow the transmission cell to fire) and large diameter fiber activity excites the inhibitory cells (tending to inhibit transmission cell activity). So, the more large fiber (touch, pressure, vibration) activity relative to thin fiber activity at the inhibitory cell, the less pain is felt. The authors had drawn a neural "circuit diagram" to explain why we rub a smack.[38] They pictured not only a signal traveling from the site of injury to the inhibitory and transmission cells and up the spinal cord to the brain, but also a signal traveling from the site of injury directly up the cord to the brain (bypassing the inhibitory and transmission cells) where, depending on the state of the brain, it may trigger a signal back down the spinal cord to modulate inhibitory cell activity (and so pain intensity). The theory offered a physiological explanation for the previously observed effect of psychology on pain perception.[49]

Three dimensions of pain

In 1968 Ronald Melzack and Kenneth Casey described pain in terms of its three dimensions: "sensory-discriminative" (sense of the intensity, location, quality and duration of the pain), "affective-motivational" (unpleasantness and urge to escape the unpleasantness), and "cognitive-evaluative" (cognitions such as appraisal, cultural values, distraction and hypnotic suggestion).[7] They theorized that pain intensity (the sensory discriminative dimension) and unpleasantness (the affective-motivational dimension) are not simply determined by the magnitude of the painful stimulus, but “higher” cognitive activities can influence perceived intensity and unpleasantness. Cognitive activities "may affect both sensory and affective experience or they may modify primarily the affective-motivational dimension. Thus, excitement in games or war appears to block both dimensions of pain, while suggestion and placebos may modulate the affective-motivational dimension and leave the sensory-discriminative dimension relatively undisturbed." (p. 432) The paper ends with a call to action: "Pain can be treated not only by trying to cut down the sensory input by anesthetic block, surgical intervention and the like, but also by influencing the motivational-affective and cognitive factors as well." (p. 435)

Theory today

Regions of the cerebral cortex associated with pain.

Wilhelm Erb's (1874) "intensive" theory, that a pain signal can be generated by intense enough stimulation of any sensory receptor, has been soundly disproved.[50] The thin (A-delta and C) peripheral sensory fibers carry information regarding the state of the body to the spinal cord.[51] Some of these thin fibers do not differentiate noxious from non-noxious stimuli, while others, nociceptors, respond only to painfully intense stimuli.[50]

Because the A-delta fiber is thicker than the C fiber and is thinly sheathed in an electrically insulating material (myelin), it carries its signal faster (5–30 m/s) than the unmyelinated C fiber (0.5–2 m/s).[52] Pain evoked by the (faster) A-delta fibers is described as sharp and is felt first. This is followed by a duller pain, often described as burning, carried by the C fibers.[53]

Spinal cord fibers dedicated to carrying A-delta fiber pain signals, and others that carry both A-delta and C fiber pain signals up the spinal cord to the thalamus in the brain have been identified. Other spinal cord fibers, known as wide dynamic range neurons, respond to A-delta and C fibers, but also to the large A-beta fibers that carry touch, pressure and vibration signals.[52] Pain-related activity in the thalamus spreads to the insular cortex (thought to embody, among other things, the feeling that distinguishes pain from other homeostatic emotions such as itch and nausea) and anterior cingulate cortex (thought to embody, among other things, the motivational element of pain);[51] and pain that is distinctly located also activates the primary and secondary somatosensory cortices.[54] Melzack and Casey's 1968 picture of the dimensions of pain is as influential today as ever, firmly framing theory and guiding research in the functional neuroanatomy and psychology of pain.

A. D. (Bud) Craig and Derek Denton include pain in a class of feelings they name, respectively, "homeostatic" or "primordial" emotions. These are feelings such as hunger, thirst and fatigue, evoked by internal body states, communicated to the central nervous system by interoceptors, which motivate behavior aimed at maintaining the internal milieu at its ideal state. Craig and Denton distinguish these feelings from the "classical emotions" such as love, fear and anger, which are elicited by environmental stimuli sensed through the nose, eyes and ears.[55][56]

Evolutionary and behavioral role

Pain is part of the body's defense system, producing a reflexive retraction from the painful stimulus, and tendencies to protect the affected body part while it heals, and avoid that harmful situation in the future.[2][57] It is an important part of animal life, vital to healthy survival. People with congenital insensitivity to pain have reduced life expectancy.[28]

In his book, The Greatest Show on Earth, biologist Richard Dawkins grapples with the question of why pain has to be so very painful. He describes the alternative as a simple, mental raising of a "red flag". To argue why that red flag might be insufficient, Dawkins explains that drives must compete with each other within living beings. The most fit creature would be the one whose pains are well balanced. Those pains which mean certain death when ignored will become the most powerfully felt. The relative intensities of pain, then, may resemble the relative importance of that risk to our ancestors (lack of food, too much cold, or serious injuries are felt as agony, whereas minor damage is felt as mere discomfort). This resemblance will not be perfect, however, because natural selection can be a poor designer. The result is often glitches in animals, including supernormal stimuli. Such glitches help explain pains which are not, or at least no longer directly adaptive (e.g. perhaps some forms of toothache, or injury to fingernails).[58]

Idiopathic pain (pain that persists after the trauma or pathology has healed, or that arises without any apparent cause), may be an exception to the idea that pain is helpful to survival, although some psychodynamic psychologists argue that such pain is psychogenic, enlisted as a protective distraction to keep dangerous emotions unconscious.[59]


In pain science, thresholds are measured by gradually increasing the intensity of a stimulus such as electric current or heat applied to the body. The pain perception threshold is the point at which the stimulus begins to hurt, and the pain tolerance threshold is reached when the subject acts to stop the pain.

Differences in pain perception and tolerance thresholds are associated with, among other factors, ethnicity, genetics, and sex. People of Mediterranean origin report as painful some radiant heat intensities that northern Europeans describe as nonpainful, and Italian women tolerate less intense electric shock than Jewish or Native American women. Some individuals in all cultures have significantly higher than normal pain perception and tolerance thresholds. For instance, patients who experience painless heart attacks have higher pain thresholds for electric shock, muscle cramp and heat.[60] Women have lower pain perception and tolerance thresholds than men, and this sex difference appears to apply to all ages, including newborn infants.[61]


A person's self report is the most reliable measure of pain, with health care professionals tending to underestimate severity.[62] A definition of pain widely employed in nursing, emphasizing its subjective nature and the importance of believing patient reports, was introduced by Margo McCaffery in 1968: "Pain is whatever the experiencing person says it is, existing whenever he says it does".[63] To assess intensity, the patient may be asked to locate their pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain at all, and 10 the worst pain they have ever felt. Quality can be established by having the patient complete the McGill Pain Questionnaire indicating which words best describe their pain.[5]

Multidimensional pain inventory

The Multidimensional Pain Inventory (MPI) is a questionnaire designed to assess the psychosocial state of a person with chronic pain. Analysis of MPI results by Turk and Rudy (1988) found three classes of chronic pain patient: "(a) dysfunctional, people who perceived the severity of their pain to be high, reported that pain interfered with much of their lives, reported a higher degree of psychological distress caused by pain, and reported low levels of activity; (b) interpersonally distressed, people with a common perception that significant others were not very supportive of their pain problems; and (c) adaptive copers, patients who reported high levels of social support, relatively low levels of pain and perceived interference, and relatively high levels of activity."[64] Combining the MPI characterization of the person with their IASP five-category pain profile is recommended for deriving the most useful case description.[10]

In nonverbal patients

When a person is non-verbal and cannot self report pain, observation becomes critical, and specific behaviors can be monitored as pain indicators. Behaviors such as facial grimacing and guarding indicate pain, as well as an increase or decrease in vocalizations, changes in routine behavior patterns and mental status changes. Patients experiencing pain may exhibit withdrawn social behavior and possibly experience a decreased appetite and decreased nutritional intake. A change in condition that deviates from baseline such as moaning with movement or when manipulating a body part, and limited range of motion are also potential pain indicators. In patients who possess language but are incapable of expressing themselves effectively, such as those with dementia, an increase in confusion or display of aggressive behaviors or agitation, may signal that discomfort exists, and further assessment is necessary.

Infants feel pain but they lack the language needed to report it, so communicate distress by crying. A non-verbal pain assessment should be conducted involving the parents, who will notice changes in the infant not obvious to the health care provider. Pre-term babies are more sensitive to painful stimuli than full term babies.[65]

Other barriers to reporting

An aging adult may not respond to pain in the way that a younger person would. Their ability to recognize pain may be blunted by illness or the use of multiple prescription drugs. Depression may also keep the older adult from reporting they are in pain. The older adult may also quit doing activities they love because it hurts too much. Decline in self-care activities (dressing, grooming, walking, etc.) may also be indicators that the older adult is experiencing pain. The older adult may refrain from reporting pain because they are afraid they will have to have surgery or will be put on a drug they become addicted to. They may not want others to see them as weak, or may feel there is something impolite or shameful in complaining about pain, or they may feel the pain is deserved punishment for past transgressions.[66]

Cultural barriers can also keep a person from telling someone they are in pain. Religious beliefs may prevent the individual from seeking help. They may feel certain pain treatment is against their religion. They may not report pain because they feel it is a sign that death is near. Many people fear the stigma of addiction and avoid pain treatment so as not to be prescribed addicting drugs. Many Asians do not want to lose respect in society by admitting they are in pain and need help, believing the pain should be borne in silence, while other cultures feel they should report pain right away and get immediate relief.[65] Gender can also be a factor in reporting pain. Gender differences are usually the result of social and cultural expectations, with women expected to be emotional and show pain and men stoic, keeping pain to themselves.[65]

As an aid to diagnosis

Pain is a symptom of many medical conditions. Knowing the time of onset, location, intensity, pattern of occurrence (continuous, intermittent, etc.), exacerbating and relieving factors, and quality (burning, sharp, etc.) of the pain will help the examining physician to accurately diagnose the problem. For example, chest pain described as extreme heaviness may indicate myocardial infarction, while chest pain described as tearing may indicate aortic dissection.[67][68]


Inadequate treatment of pain is widespread throughout surgical wards, intensive care units, accident and emergency departments, in general practice, in the management of all forms of chronic pain including cancer pain, and in end of life care.[69] This neglect is extended to all ages, from neonates to the frail elderly.[70] African and Hispanic Americans are more likely than others to suffer needlessly in the hands of a physician;[71] and women's pain is more likely to be undertreated than men's.[72]

The International Association for the Study of Pain advocates that the relief of pain should be recognized as a human right, that chronic pain should be considered a disease in its own right, and that pain medicine should have the full status of a specialty.[73] It is a specialty only in China and Australia at this time.[74] Elsewhere, pain medicine is a subspecialty under disciplines such as anesthesiology, physiatry, neurology, palliative medicine and psychiatry.[75]


Acute pain is usually managed with medications such as analgesics and anesthetics. Management of chronic pain, however, is much more difficult and may require the coordinated efforts of a pain management team, which typically includes medical practitioners, clinical psychologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and nurse practitioners.[76]

Sugar taken orally reduces the total crying time but not the duration of the first cry in newborns undergoing a painful procedure (a single lancing of the heel). It does not moderate the effect of pain on heart rate[77] and a recent single study found that sugar did not significantly affect pain-related electrical activity in the brains of newborns one second after the heel lance procedure.[78][79] Sweet oral liquid moderately reduces the incidence and duration of crying caused by immunization injection in children between one and twelve months of age.[80]


Individuals with more social support experience less cancer pain, take less pain medication, report less labor pain and are less likely to use epidural anesthesia during childbirth or suffer from chest pain after coronary artery bypass surgery.[81]

Suggestion can significantly affect pain intensity. About 35% of people report marked relief after receiving a saline injection they believe to have been morphine. This "placebo" effect is more pronounced in people who are prone to anxiety, so anxiety reduction may account for some of the effect, but it does not account for all of the effect. Placebos are more effective in intense pain than mild pain; and they produce progressively weaker effects with repeated administration.[82]

It is possible for many chronic pain sufferers to become so absorbed in an activity or entertainment that the pain is no longer felt, or is greatly diminished.[83]

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is effective in reducing the suffering associated with chronic pain in some patients but the reduction in suffering is quite modest, and the CBT method employed seems to have no effect on outcome.[84]

Alternative medicine

Pain is the most common reason for people to use complementary and alternative medicine.[85] An analysis of the 13 highest quality studies of pain treatment with acupuncture, published in January 2009 in the British Medical Journal, concluded there is little difference in the effect of real, sham and no acupuncture.[86] There is interest in the relationship between vitamin D and pain, but the evidence so far from controlled trials for such a relationship, other than in osteomalacia, is unconvincing.[87]

A 2007 review of 13 studies found evidence for the efficacy of hypnosis in the reduction of pain in some conditions, though the number of patients enrolled in the studies was low, bringing up issues of power to detect group differences, and most lacked credible controls for placebo and/or expectation. The authors concluded that "although the findings provide support for the general applicability of hypnosis in the treatment of chronic pain, considerably more research will be needed to fully determine the effects of hypnosis for different chronic-pain conditions."[88]

A 2003 meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials found that spinal manipulation was "more effective than sham therapy but was no more or less effective than general practitioner care, analgesics, physical therapy, exercise, or back school" in the treatment of low back pain.[89]


Pain is the main reason for visiting the emergency department in more than 50% of cases[90] and is present in 30% of family practice visits.[91] Several epidemiological studies from different countries have reported widely varying prevalence rates for chronic pain, ranging from 12-80% of the population.[92] It becomes more common as people approach death. A study of 4,703 patients found that 26% had pain in the last two years of life, increasing to 46% in the last month.[93]

A survey of 6,636 children (0–18 years of age) found that, of the 5,424 respondents, 54% had experienced pain in the preceding three months. A quarter reported having experienced recurrent or continuous pain for three months or more, and a third of these reported frequent and intense pain. The intensity of chronic pain was higher for girls, and girls' reports of chronic pain increased markedly between ages12 and 14.[94]

Society and culture

The okipa ceremony as witnessed by George Catlin, circa 1835.

The nature or meaning of physical pain has been diversely understood by religious or secular traditions from antiquity to modern times.[95][96]

Physical pain is an important political topic in relation to various issues, including pain management policy, drug control, animal rights or animal welfare, torture, and pain compliance. In various contexts, the deliberate infliction of pain in the form of corporal punishment is used as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behaviour deemed unacceptable. In some cultures, extreme practices such as mortification of the flesh or painful rites of passage are highly regarded.

Philosophy of pain is a branch of philosophy of mind that deals essentially with physical pain, especially in connection with such views as dualism, identity theory, and functionalism.

More generally, it is often as a part of pain in the broad sense, i.e. suffering, that physical pain is dealt with in culture, religion, philosophy, or society.

In other animals

Portrait of René Descartes by Jan Baptist Weenix 1647-1649

The most reliable method for assessing pain in most humans is by asking a question: a person may report pain that cannot be detected by any known physiological measure. However, like infants (Latin infans meaning "unable to speak"), non-human animals cannot answer questions about whether they feel pain; thus the defining criterion for pain in humans cannot be applied to them. Philosophers and scientists have responded to this difficulty in a variety of ways. René Descartes for example argued that animals lack consciousness and therefore do not experience pain and suffering in the way that humans do.[97] Bernard Rollin of Colorado State University, the principal author of two U.S. federal laws regulating pain relief for animals,[98] writes that researchers remained unsure into the 1980s as to whether animals experience pain, and that veterinarians trained in the U.S. before 1989 were simply taught to ignore animal pain.[99] In his interactions with scientists and other veterinarians, he was regularly asked to "prove" that animals are conscious, and to provide "scientifically acceptable" grounds for claiming that they feel pain.[99] Carbone writes that the view that animals feel pain differently is now a minority view. Academic reviews of the topic are more equivocal, noting that although the argument that animals have at least simple conscious thoughts and feelings has strong support,[100] some critics continue to question how reliably animal mental states can be determined.[97][101] The ability of invertebrate species of animals, such as insects, to feel pain and suffering is also unclear.[102][103]

The presence of pain in an animal cannot be known for certain, but it can be inferred through physical and behavioral reactions.[104] Specialists currently believe that all vertebrates can feel pain, and that certain invertebrates, like the octopus, might too.[105][106] As for other animals, plants, or other entities, their ability to feel physical pain is at present a question beyond scientific reach, since no mechanism is known by which they could have such a feeling. In particular, there are no known nociceptors in groups such as plants, fungi, and most insects,[107] except for instance in fruit flies.[108]

In vertebrates, endogenous opioids are neurochemicals that moderate pain by interacting with opiate receptors. Opioids and opiate receptors occur naturally in crustaceans and, although at present no certain conclusion can be drawn,[109] their presence indicates that lobsters may be able to experience pain.[109][110] Opioids may mediate their pain in the same way as in vertebrates.[110] Veterinary medicine uses, for actual or potential animal pain, the same analgesics and anesthetics as used in humans.[111]


First attested in English in 1297, the word pain comes from the Old French peine, in turn from Latin poena, "punishment, penalty"[112] (in L.L. also "torment, hardship, suffering") and that from Greek "ποινή" (poine), generally "price paid", "penalty", "punishment".[113][114]

See also


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  • pain — pain …   Dictionnaire des rimes

  • pain — [ pɛ̃ ] n. m. • 1050; pan 980; lat. panis 1 ♦ Aliment fait de farine, d eau, de sel et de levain, pétri, fermenté et cuit au four (le pain, du pain); masse déterminée de cet aliment ayant une forme donnée (un pain). Pâte à pain. Faire du pain.… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • pain — PAIN. s. m. Aliment ordinaire fait de farine pestrie & cuite. Bon pain. mauvais pain. pain bis. pain blanc, bis blanc. pain noir. pain tendre. pain frais. pain rassis. pain dur. pain salé. pain sans levain. pain de froment. pain de segle. pain d… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • pain — Pain, Panis. Pain blanc, Panis primarius, Candidus panis. Pain bourgeois, gros pain, Panis secundarius, siue secundus, Cibarius panis, Panis ciuilis, B. Pain bis dont on n a pas osté beaucoup du son, Pain de la fenestre, Ater panis, Autopyron.… …   Thresor de la langue françoyse

  • Pain — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Para el personaje de anime y manga, véase Pain (Naruto). Pain Información personal …   Wikipedia Español

  • pain — n 1 Pain, ache, pang, throe, twinge, stitch are comparable when they mean a bodily sensation that causes acute discomfort or suffering. Pain may range in its application from a sensation that makes one uneasily aware of some bodily disturbance or …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • pain — (p[=a]n), n. [OE. peine, F. peine, fr. L. poena, penalty, punishment, torment, pain; akin to Gr. poinh penalty. Cf. {Penal}, {Pine} to languish, {Punish}.] 1. Punishment suffered or denounced; suffering or evil inflicted as a punishment for crime …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Pain — Фестиваль Rock The Lake 2007 …   Википедия

  • pain — n 1: punishment 2 a: physical discomfort associated with bodily disorder (as disease or injury) b: acute mental or emotional suffering pain·less adj pain·less·ly adv …   Law dictionary

  • pain — ► NOUN 1) a strongly unpleasant bodily sensation such as is caused by illness or injury. 2) mental suffering or distress. 3) (also pain in the neck or vulgar slang pain in the arse) informal an annoying or tedious person or thing. 4) (pains)… …   English terms dictionary

  • Pain — Pain, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Pained} (p[=a]nd); p. pr. & vb. n. {Paining}.] [OE. peinen, OF. pener, F. peiner to fatigue. See {Pain}, n.] 1. To inflict suffering upon as a penalty; to punish. [Obs.] Wyclif (Acts xxii. 5). [1913 Webster] 2. To put… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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