What is pain?

We have pain receptors throughout our body, both outside and within. These receptors send electrical messages through our spinal cord to the brain. We only become aware of pain after our brain receives and interprets these electrical messages. In some cases, such as when we touch a hot stove, the body can spring into defensive action even before the brain knows what is happening. That’s because pain messages that reach the spinal cord can cause an automatic reflex response, making muscles near the source of the pain contract to get away from the pain.

Pain receptors and nerve pathways differ throughout the body. Therefore, the sensation of pain differs, too, depending on where the message comes from and how it travels. At times, the source of pain is difficult to locate. For example, some people feel the pain from a heart attack in the neck or jaw. People also differ in their ability to tolerate pain and how they respond to pain medication.

Types of pain

Pain is classified into two types:

Acute pain:

  • Usually has a clear source
  • Begins suddenly
  • Doesn’t last a long time
  • Can increase heart and breathing rates and raise blood pressure

Acute pain is generally useful. It’s a clear sign of danger. Examples include touching a hot surface, stubbing your toe or being cut.

Chronic pain:

  • Usually lasts a month or more, and could last years
  • Can come and go many times or remain constant
  • Can disturb sleep patterns, decrease appetite and cause depression
  • Often has little or no effect on blood pressure, heart or breathing rates

Chronic or persistent pain is pain that carries on for longer than 12 weeks despite medication or treatment. Chronic pain can outlive its usefulness; the message has been sent and received, but keeps being sent over and over. Examples include arthritis, cancer and back injuries.


Pain is the symptom. Acute pain often has a clear source. Chronic pain is more persistent, lasting months or years, and it may or may not have an obvious source.


To diagnose the cause of pain, doctors usually try to determine the intensity of the pain and what’s causing the pain. This can be challenging. No laboratory test can prove that pain exists, and describing pain in words can be difficult. Also, each person experiences pain differently.

Your doctor may ask you questions about the history of your pain. He or she may ask you to describe your pain using a scale, such as 0 (no pain) to 10 (unbearable pain), or use other scales and measurements. Once your doctor determines whether your pain is acute or chronic, and uncovers the source of the pain, he or she can determine the best way to treat it. However, doctors often begin treating pain before they identify the cause.


Your doctor probably will treat your pain while he or she tries to figure out the cause. Many drugs are helpful, though how well they work depends on the patient and the nature of pain.

Analgesics (painkillers) are the most common pain remedy. Sometimes medications are injected directly into the region of pain or near a nerve to interrupt the pain signal.

Non-drug treatments for pain include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Relaxation
  • Psychotherapy
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which uses electrical impulses to stimulate the nerve endings at or near the site of pain

Non-drug treatments may be especially useful for people with chronic pain. In some cases, these treatments may stimulate natural painkillers, called endorphins, which are created within the body. In other cases, non-drug treatments work directly on nerves to interfere with pain messages. Sometimes, it isn’t clear why the pain stops.

What can I do for myself?

There’s a lot you can do to help yourself and have a better life even with chronic pain. Simple changes can often make a big difference to the amount of disability and suffering you can experience. This is called pain management.

To help manage your pain, you might consider:

  • Planning your day – Make a plan of things to do and places to be to help you keep on top of your pain.
  • Pacing yourself – Don’t push through the pain, stop before it gets worse then go back to whatever you were doing later.
  • Learning to relax – Relaxing can be hard when you have pain but finding something which relaxes you will reduce the stress of pain.
  • Taking regular enjoyable exercise – Even a small amount will make you feel better and ease your pain. It will also keep your muscles and joints strong.
  • Taking pain medicine – Talk to your doctor. Pain medicines work better alongside a plan.
  • Talking to others – Tell your friends and family about chronic pain and why you need to do things differently at the moment.
  • Enjoyment – Doing things you enjoy boosts your own natural painkillers. Think about what you enjoyed before the pain and introduce it back into your routine.

Activity and exercise

Being active and taking exercise is a good prescription for managing pain. Knowing where to start can be daunting for some people with chronic pain as they often find it hard to do things on some days more than others. Don’t be put off by the word ‘exercise’ – any type of movement is exercise.

To begin with your muscles might hurt so it’s important that you choose a level of exercise that suits you. Learning how to ‘pace’ your activity and exercise can help. Most of all it should be enjoyable.


This might start off with walk up and down your path or a walk to the end of the street and back. A local park is also a good option, especially if it has benches for you to rest on along the way.

Should you require additional information or would like to make an appointment with our Consultant , Dr. Tarek Sultan,  please call us or e-mail us at info@westminsterclinic.ae

Disclaimer: All contents on this site are for general information and in no circumstances information be substituted for professional advice from the relevant healthcare professional, Writer does not take responsibility of any damage done by the misuse or use of the information.


  • American Chronic Pain Association
  • NHS.uk
  • American Pain Society
  • health.harvard.edu