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The Pathophysiology of Pain


What Is Pain?

From a clinical perspective, pain is far more than a distinct type of physical sensation. The International Association for the Study of Pain provides a practical definition of pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”1


The Role of Pain

Both transient pain and acute pain have an apparent survival benefit. Rapidly pulling away from a burning object, for example, helps protect the body. Behaviors such as resting and immobilizing an injured extremity may help promote natural healing and the restoration of normal function. In contrast, chronic pain states have no clear protective or restorative value. Consequently, chronic pain is often considered indicative of sustained pathophysiology, provoked by inflammation or nerve injury.2

1National Pharmaceutical Council and Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. Pain: Current Understanding of
2Hudspith MJ, Siddall PJ, Munglani R. Physiology of pain. In: Hemming HC, Hopkins PM, eds. Foundations of Anesthesia. 2nd ed. London, UK: Mosby; 2006:267-285.