Types of Pain

Those who have chronic pain usually understand what I mean by the phrase "Types of Pain." However, it still helps to have it explained how pain can be generated from several sources. Not only that, but you can experience pain from more than one source at the same time. For example, you may have an impinged nerve which, of course, causes pain. At the same time you may be guarding in such a way that causes muscle fatigue and PAIN. Then, because your muscles are tight there is friction in the joints when you move, so you also have bone pain. As you can see there are at least 3 different types of pain.

The main purpose of pain is to inform us that something is not right. Pain gets our attention so we can do something about an injury or potential injury. It helps to realize that pain is not inherently a bad thing. However, that being said, constant pain or pain that will not resolve can definitely be bad. It can put a complete strain on all aspects of our lives. The fact that we can actually differentiate types of pain is indicative of the intelligence of our body and its natural desire to self-correct.

Nerve Pain

When a nerve is injured or compressed it sends pain signals to our awareness as a means of protection. Nerve pain is a type of pain that can produce a variety of unpleasant sensations including: numbness, tingling, burning, searing, piercing, aching, sharp, dull, throbbing, pins and needles, tightness, pressure and pulling. Damaged or injured nerves can also produce odd sensitivity to a range of temperatures, gentle breezes and wind, changes in weather and contact to touch.

A nerve that has been damaged has some ability to heal. However, if the injury is severe enough, the damage is permanent. Physicians usually give post surgery patients 2 years for a nerve to completely heal. After that there is usually no further change. Unfortunately, permanent damage to a nerve may cause constant pain that varies from day to day. I'm not sure why the pain goes up and down, but during my 15 years of asking patients about this 100% have said that it does.

Soft Tissue Pain

As mentioned in the discussion on Back Pain, when we are injured (threatened or stressed), our natural protective response is to tense up. However, if we are constantly tense the muscles, tendons and connective tissue begin cause pain. This is caused by a variety of reasons. First, the tension effects the circulation, which causes a deficit of oxygen that is supplied to the area. This lack of oxygen causes the nerves to bombard the central nervous system with pain signals. (Refer to the Pain-Spasm-Pain Cycle .) The pain is an attempt to warn us that something is wrong. The unusual part about this situation is the level of oxygen deficit is not enough to actually cause injury, but it still can create debilitating pain. John Sarno, M.D. goes into this phenomenon in his book Healing Back Pain.

Another cause of soft tissue pain is from hyper-irritable areas caused by Trigger Points. Trigger Points cause pain that refers to other areas of the body from where they are located. This makes it difficult to tract down the actual source of the pain. However, a skilled Neuromuscular Therapist can do wonders in locating and treating Trigger Point induced pain.

Still another cause of soft tissue pain comes from inflammation. This generally shows up as tendonitis. (A tendon is the muscle end that attaches it to bone.) Tendonitis is frequently caused by repetitive activities, be they from sports, work or hobbies. When a muscle is overused it begins to retain a shorter then normal resting length. As a result, activities that are normally fine begin to put an extra strain on the tendon. This strain causes a micro tearing of the tendon where it attaches to the bone. And, of course, this tearing causes inflammation, which can become very painful. (The best first treatment for tendonitis is ice .)

Finally, the connective tissue can also cause pain. The connective tissue (also called fascia) is the thin, clear membrane that surrounds all the muscles of the body. In actuality this tissue is pervasive through out the body. It surrounds and runs through the muscles, organs, blood vessels, nerves and bones. Its propose is to divide and support the many structures it surrounds. The connective tissue can become dehydrated and cause adhesions between different areas. This in turn can put a great strain on how areas interact as well as affecting our posture. Treatment of this tissue is possible by someone trained in structural integration.

Bone Pain

The bones of the body can also be a source of pain, as anyone with arthritis well knows. Usually this pain is generated in the joints where two or more bones connect. In a normal joint two bones meet with smooth, dovetail type accuracy. If this joint is compressed for any reason it can cause a grinding that wears the cartilage and causes pain. Bone spurs or areas of bony growth can also cause pain both by pushing on delicate soft tissue and/or interfering with normal joint function.

Combinations of Pain

In many cases one type of pain can cause pain from other sources. For example, if you have nerve damage, the tendency is to tense the surrounding muscles, which then causes its own level of pain. The tight muscles can then cause compression in the joint spaces that cause bone pain. The combination of all these types of pain can literally be over whelming. Where to start to resolve this situation depends on several factors. If there is nerve damage, get medical treatment. Once this has been addressed have someone work with the soft tissue - either a neuromuscular therapist or a somatic educator. If the bones are the main cause, have it looked at, then address the soft tissue.


Depending on their origin headaches can be one of the most debilitating types of pain. They often force one into the isolation of complete darkness and silence. Because headaches can come from so many sources which require different types of treatment I recommend the following link as an excellent resource.


Cancer Pain and Pain from Cancer Treatment

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