How to Talk About Body Pain
The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as an unpleasant emotional and/or sensory experience that may or not be associated with an underlying pathology. This definition embraces both acute pain, which is directly related to tissue damage, and chronic pain, which may or may not have a discernible physical cause.
Types of Pain: Acute vs. Chronic
When describing pain to a medical professional, it is useful to understand the meanings of the terms, “acute,” and “chronic.” Perhaps because of its association, within the context of geometry, as an angle of less than 90 degrees, people often speak of acute pain to describe a sharp, severe sensation. If the discomfort is unrelenting, patients may tell their doctor they are suffering from chronic pain. So they might refer to a sharp pain that never goes away as both acute and chronic.
Pain management professionals, on the other hand, may also categorize pain in terms of how long it lasts. Acute pain lasts a short while and goes away; chronic pain is longer lasting. In this context, the two terms are mutually exclusive. It helps if patients explain to the clinician in front of them what they mean by these terms.
Pain from injuries and surgical procedures are generally acute. It has a definite cause and usually resolves within a few days. Examples of pain that is chronic include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Back Pain
Types of Pain Descriptors: Sensory, Affective, Evaluative
Doctors sometimes use the McGill Pain Questionnaire to elicit a more detailed description of their symptoms. Patients select seven words from 20 groups of words, or descriptors. The 20 descriptors fall into one of three categories: sensory, affective, and evaluatory.
Examples of sensory terms include things like throbbing, shooting, gnawing, etc. Included in the affective category are words such as punishing or terrifying. Words like annoying, unbearable, or intense are evaluative descriptors.
Discussing the time course of pain and using instruments such as the McGill Pain Questionnaire help both patient and clinician understand the symptoms in unambiguous terms. Following this practice makes it easier to diagnose the underlying problem and decide on the best course of treatment.