What is Pain?

About Pain

Pain is an invisible illness that affects millions of people worldwide. It can be a health condition on its own or a complication from other health conditions such as diabetes, fibromyalgia or cancer. Pain is a very serious health condition that changes the way you live your life. That is why it is import to understand what causes pain and the different types of pain.  This knowledge makes it is possible to develop your own personal strategies to manage your pain and live your life your way.

What is Pain?

There are three primary types of pain. The first is nociceptive pain, which is caused by the activation of very small sensory nerve fibres anywhere in the body. These nerve fibres send messages to the brain, which are interpreted as pain. This type of pain is most commonly caused by damage to a part of the body. For example cuts, burns or bruises all cause this type of pain.

The second is neuropathic pain, which is caused by damage to nerves.  This is the type of pain that people with diabetes or those undergoing cancer treatment experiences, but it can also be the result of amputations or damage to the body that also causes in nerve damage.

The third is chronic back or neck pain. This pain may be the result of spinal cord issues such as compression, disc problems, complications from surgery or whiplash. Symptoms of chronic back pain can be felt in the arms or legs depending on where along the spine the problem originates.

The Basics of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is a condition where a person is living in pain for a prolonged period of time. The pain can be caused by an injury, health condition or no identifiable cause. The definition for diagnosing chronic pain can vary among professionals. Some clinicians will diagnose chronic pain if painful symptoms last longer than 1, 3, 6 or 12 months, while others will diagnose chronic pain if the symptoms last longer than the amount of time that it would take for the area causing pain to heal under normal circumstances. 

Chronic pain is typically associated with an injury or damage to the body (i.e. broken bones, surgery, car crash) or nerve injury to the central nerves (brain and spinal cord) or peripheral nerves. In some cases, there might be no explanation for the cause of chronic pain. 

Chronic pain from injuries or body damage is the result of damage to pain centres in the affected area. All parts of our body have pain centres, which are small nerve fibres that transmit the injury message back to the brain.  This type of chronic pain is often associated with constant sharp or aching pain; however, symptoms can vary.

Chronic pain from nerve injury or neuropathy can be the result of injury to a nerve (e.g. brain or spinal cord) or damage to peripheral nerves from diabetes, chemotherapy, alcohol or toxins. This type of chronic pain is often associated with burning, tingling or pins and needles symptoms. 

Chronic pain from no specific cause is possibly the most frustrating type of chronic pain. In some cases, there can be inflammation or other neurological conditions that are causing symptoms. Cases with no specific cause are referred to as idiopathic pain – meaning from no specific cause. Sometimes, emotional stresses can cause physical pain.


Some of the most common symptoms of chronic pain are:

  • Pain lasting for over 3 months
  • Pain to a part of the body that lasts longer than an injury should take to heal
  • Persistent pain that can be described as mild or beyond
  • Feelings of burning, aching, tingling, pins and needles or shooting
  • The feeling of not being able to get comfortable


These symptoms can lead to other complications that include:

  • Difficulty sleeping or insomnia (painsomnia)
  • Constant fatigue
  • Low immunity or frequent colds/flu
  • Depression, irritability or anxiety.