Definition of Pain

In dictionaries, pain (ICD-9: 780.96) is defined as a sensation of hurting or of strong discomfort in some part of the body, caused by an injury, a disease, or a functional disorder and transmitted through the nervous system. A nurse, Margo McCaffery, who worked for years with clients in pain and conducted extensive research in the field of pain, defines pain as whatever the experiencing person says it is, existing when he or she says it does. This definition is perhaps the most useful because it acknowledges the client’s complaint, recognizes the subjective nature of pain, and implicitly suggests that diverse measures may be undertaken to relieve pain.


The IASP and the American Pain Society (APS) define pain as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience arising from actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage. Again, this definition further confirms the multiple components of pain in a person’s psychological and physiological existence. Pain is the most common complaint of persons seeking medical attention.

Acute Pain

Acute pain (ICD-9: 338.1x) is a warning that something is wrong in normal body functioning. It warns of inflammation, tissue damage, infection, injury, trauma, or surgery somewhere in the body. Acute pain is often accompanied by anxiety. It comes on suddenly and can last for hours or days, perhaps even months. Such pain may be manifested as an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension and a decrease in salivary flow and gut motility. The primary goal of treatment is to diagnose the source of pain and remove it. Acute pain disappears once the underlying cause of the pain is treated.


Chronic Pain

Chronic pain (ICD-9: 338.2x) most often starts as an acute pain but continues beyond the normal expected time for resolution. It may also be described as a pain that recurs. Chronic pain is no longer useful or beneficial. It is frequently debilitating, exhausting an individual’s physical and emotional resources. It is often difficult to manage. Complete relief of chronic pain does not always occur. The treatment goal of chronic pain is to minimize the pain and maximize a person’s functioning. The intent is to decrease the level of pain so that everyday activities can be performed. Because of this goal, a multidisciplinary approach to treatment is often necessary. This approach blends physical, emotional, intellectual, and social skills.


Chronic pain can further be described as

  1. Nociceptive pain
  2. Neuropathic pain

Nociceptive pain is sometimes called tissue pain. It is derived from damage to tissues rather than nerves. The nerve cells (called nociceptors) carry the pain sensation to the spinal cord where it is then relayed to the brain. This pain is well localized, often has an aching or throbbing quality, and is constant. The pain is called somatic if it is the result of damage or injury to muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Somatic pain may be further classified as cutaneous if the pain comes from the skin or deep if the pain comes from deeper musculoskeletal tissues.


Neuropathic pain comes from a nervous system lesion. It may be further identified as neural pain if the lesion is in the brain or spinal cord. It is referred to as peripheral neuropathic pain if the lesion is along the cranial or spinal nerves. Neuropathic pain is often described as severe, sharp, stabbing, burning, cold, numbness, tingling, or weakness. Some individuals feel the pain move along the nerve path from the spine to the extremities. Neuropathic pain does not usually respond to routine analgesics.

It is quite possible for individuals to experience nociceptive and neuropathic pain at the same time in certain conditions. Specialists in pain management define additional types of pain. The most common are listed here:

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  • Angina pain (ICD-9: 786.51) occurs when the blood supply to the heart muscle is disrupted. It is often described as crushing or tightness and burning pain in the chest.
  • Breakthrough pain (ICD-9: 338.x) results from the reoccurrence of chronic pain that earlier responded to pain management.
  • Malignant (cancer) pain (ICD-9: 338.3) comes from the disease of cancer (tumor, abnormal growth) or the treatment for the cancer (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy).
  • Phantom limb pain (ICD-9: 729.2) is the pain felt from an amputated body part. Military personnel who suffered the loss of a limb often describe this pain as squeezing or burning. The brain mistakenly interprets the nerve signals as coming from the missing limb.
  • Psychogenic pain (ICD-9: 307.80) is often experienced by individuals with psychological disorders. They have very real pain but without a physical cause.

The Experience of Pain

How pain is experienced is based, in part, on several variables:

  1. Early experiences of pain. Did management of pain in the past have a positive or negative impact? Generally, a person’s fear of pain increases with each pain experience.
  2. Cultural backgrounds. Research shows that culture generally does not influence how a person perceives pain but does influence how a person responds to pain. Early in life, children learn from those around them. For example, children may learn that a sports injury does not hurt as much as trauma from an automobile accident. Further, they learn what behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable. These behaviors vary among cultures. Rarely are these expectations changed; in fact, these perceptions are believed to be normal and acceptable.
  3. Anxiety and depression. Does anxiety increase or decrease pain? Is depression the cause or result of pain? Some believe there is a relationship between anxiety and depression and pain. The longer the duration of pain, the greater is the occurrence of depression. It is important to address anxiety and depression when treating individuals in pain.
  4. Age. Pain perception does not change significantly with age, yet the way an elderly person responds to pain treatment may differ from that of a younger person. For example, as a person ages, a slower metabolism and greater ratio of body fat to muscle mass dictates that a smaller dosage of analgesics may be required.
  5. Sex. Recent research suggests that females and males experience pain differently. In fact, females demonstrate a greater frequency of pain-related symptoms in more bodily areas than do males. In addition, when pain-free individuals were exposed to a variety of painful stimulus, females exhibited greater sensitivity to the experimentally induced pain than did males. It also was evident that women attach an emotional aspect to the pain they experience, while men concentrate only on the physical sensations they experience. This sensory focus for men allowed them to endure more pain and suffer less than the women.
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Spine Health. PROCEDURE 3 — EXTENSION IN LYING The patient, already lying prone, places the hands (palms down) near the shoulders as for the traditional press-up exercise. He now presses the top half of his body up by straightening the arms, while the bottom half, from the pelvis down is allowed to sag with gravity. The top half of the body is then lowered and the exercise is repeated about ten times. The first two or three movements should be carried out with some caution, but once these are found to be safe the remaining extension stresses may become successively stronger until the last movement is made to the maximum possible extension range. If the first series of exercises appears beneficial, then a second series may be indicated. More vigour can be applied and a better effect will be obtained if the last two or three extension stresses are sustained for a few seconds. It is essential to obtain the maximum elevation by the tenth excursion and once obtained the lumbar spine should be permitted to relax into the most extreme ...
ASSESSMENT OF PAIN Pain gives the body warning and often is accompanied by anxiety and the need to relieve the pain. Pain is both sensation and emotion. As noted earlier, it can be acute or chronic. Health-care professionals may find the following mnemonic tool useful for assessing a client in pain: P = place (client points with one finger to the location of the pain) A = amount (client rates pain on a scale from 0 to 10 ) I = interactions (client describes what worsens the pain) N = neutralizers (client describes what lessens the pain) The scale of 0 to 10, as described in the mnemonic, is a useful method of assessing pain. Further pain assessment skills include observing the client’s appearance and activity. Monitoring the client’s vital signs may be of value in assessing acute pain but not necessarily chronic pain. To assess the pain of children or those with some cognitive dysfunction or dementia, a “smiley face” model often proves beneficial. The first smiley face shows a happy face...
Spine Health. PROCEDURE 7 — EXTENSION MOBILISATION The patient lies prone as for procedure 1. The therapist stands to one side of the patient, crosses the arms and places the heels of the hands on the transverse processes of the appropriate lumbar segment. A gentle pressure is applied symmetrically and immediately released, but the hands must not lose contact. This is repeated rhythmically to the same segment about ten times. Each pressure is a little stronger than the previous one, depending on the patient’s tolerance and the behaviour of the pain. The procedure should be applied to the adjacent segments, one at a time, until all the areas affected have been mobilised. Fig. Positioning of hands prior to extension mobilisation. Extension mobilisation. Effects: In this procedure the external force applied by the therapist enhances the effects on derangement and dysfunction as described for the previous extension procedures. In general, symmetrical pressures are used on patients with central and bilateral symptoms. Therapist-...
Back Pain History Taking an accurate history is the most important part of the initial consultation when one is dealing with any medical or surgical problem. Unfortunately, when the mechanical lesion is involved there is still lack of understanding regarding the nature of the questions that should be asked, the reasons for asking them, and the conclusions to be drawn from the answers. I will set out step by step the stages that should be developed in history taking, and the questions that should be asked at each stage. Practitioners will already have their own method of history taking, and I do not suggest at all that they should alter their routine. However, I believe that the following questions must be included, if one is to reach a conclusion following the examination of patients with mechanical low back pain. INTERROGATION As well as the usual questions regarding name, age and address, one should enquire as to the occupation of the patient, in particular his position at work which provides us ...
EFFECTIVE PAIN MANAGEMENT According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a federal agency established in 1989, there are three major barriers to effective pain management: the health-care system health-care professionals clients The health-care system is slow to hold itself accountable for assessing and relieving pain. Many professionals suggest that assessment of pain be included with the measurement of taking vital signs, such as temrerature, pulse, respiration, and blood pressure. Pain assessment would be the fifth vital sign. It is helpful to remember that heart rate and blood pressure may increase with acute pain but not necessarily with chronic pain. The belief is that routinely assessing and relieving pain would prove more cost effective than ignoring the issue. Health professionals are not always educated about the meaning of and assessment of pain management and may be concerned about the use of opioids (narcotics), mainly due to possible addiction. Clients and their fam...