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Different Types of Pain and Words to Describe It

Having a chronic illness means you are constantly dealing with different types of pain. What I find really hard is trying to explain my pain when someone asks me to. At that point, it just hurts so bad that I do not know what else more to say except for "IT HURTS!".

Describing pain

What I found to be helpful was making a little pain card. It describes different types of pains that I may be feeling. This way, when someone asks me to describe my pain, I can look at my card and see what word to best use. Here are my different types of pain. Of course, this is not all the types - I am sure there are many more - but this is my own personal little book of terms that has been beyond helpful.

Neuropathic pain

This pain can come out of nowhere and is usually caused by damage or dysfunction to your nervous system. This type of pain can be a bit different. Instead of feeling pain from doing something, you may experience pain just from the cold air or clothes touching your skin. To some, neuropathic pain can feel like burning, freezing, stabbing, shooting, tingling, or numbness.

Somatic pain

Somatic pain can feel like a dull, aching, or gnawing feeling. Aching pain is known as Deep Somatic Pain and can cause an aching feeling in your muscles, joints, tendons, or even bones. Superficial somatic pain usually feels sharp, burning, or throbbing. A canker sore is a good example of what superficial somatic pain feels like.

Chronic pain

Sometimes, somatic pain can become chronic pain, if the pain lasts longer than expected. Chronic pain can feel like a mixture of all of these other types of pain. The only difference is, it lasts for a long time. Examples of chronic pain would be fibromyalgia, tension headaches, pelvic pain, back pain, and even arthritis.

Visceral pain

This sort of pain is caused from damage to your organs. IBS, appendicitis, and even gallstones are things that can cause visceral pain. This type of pain is usually described as cramping, aching, and even pressure.

A learning process

Having endometriosis, I find it difficult to describe my pains... Because endometriosis causes just about everyone of these types of pains in my body! Knowing the different kinds of pain, though, has definitely made it a lot easier to pinpoint what I am feeling and what part of my body actually may really be hurting.

I have found that the terms I use the most when I am feeling pain are; pressure, stabbing, shooting, sore, cramping, aching, dull and sharp.

I have learned that the difference between dull and sharp pain is this: dull pain is a deep ache felt in an area but doesn’t usually stop me from doing activities. Slight headaches, sore muscles, or even a bruised bone are examples. Sharp pain is more localized to a specific place like a sprain, paper cut or even tweaked back. The difference between shooting and stabbing is; shooting pain starts somewhere and shoots to a different part of the body. For example, my pelvic pain shoots to my legs. Whereas stabbing pain is more localized to one part of the body.

Tracking my pain

What I have also found to be super helpful is keeping a journal of my pain to track it. Here is what I usually write down:

  • When it started
  • Ended
  • How it felt
  • Did anything make it better or worse?
  • What was I doing right before the pain started?

I also love using and filling in this pain diary I found online!

What are ways you describe your pain?

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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