Types of Chronic Pain and Why it Matters

Elisha Peterson MD, FAAP, FASA

Living with chronic pain can be a daily battle, affecting not only your physical well-being but also your emotional and mental health. Chronic pain is a complex condition that can manifest in various ways, and understanding the different types of pain is crucial for receiving appropriate treatment. 

In this blog post, we will explore the various types of pain and explain why identifying your specific type of pain is essential for effective management and relief.

Nociceptive Pain

Nociceptive pain is perhaps the most common type of pain. It results from the activation of nociceptors, which are specialized nerve endings that detect harmful stimuli such as tissue damage or inflammation. Nociceptive pain can be further categorized into two subtypes:

  • Somatic Pain: This type of pain originates from the skin, muscles, bones, and joints. Conditions like arthritis, fractures, and muscle strains often lead to somatic pain.  If you have this type of pain, you can usually point to where it hurts with 1 finger. 
  • Visceral Pain: Visceral pain arises from the internal organs and can be caused by conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, endometriosis, or gallbladder disease.  This pain feels duller and vaguer. It’s hard to pinpoint  the location of pain with 1 finger.

Neuropathic Pain 

Neuropathic pain is the result of damage or malfunction in the nervous system itself. Unlike nociceptive pain, neuropathic pain does not serve as a warning sign of injury, but rather persists long after the initial cause is gone. Conditions such as diabetic neuropathy, post-herpetic neuralgia, and sciatica fall under 

Mixed Pain

Mixed pain is a combination of nociceptive and neuropathic pain. It often occurs when a chronic condition causes damage to both the tissues and nerves. For example, in conditions like complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), patients experience both burning and throbbing pain (nociceptive) as well as numbness and tingling (neuropathic).

Central Sensitization 

Central sensitization occurs when the central nervous system becomes hypersensitive to pain signals, amplifying pain perception.  This type of chronic pain is common in fibromyalgia, where the brain's processing of pain signals is altered, causing widespread pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbances.

Why Identifying the Type of Pain Matters

Understanding the specific type of pain you have is essential for several reasons:

  • Tailored Treatment Plans: Different types of chronic pain respond differently to treatments. Knowing the underlying cause and pain type allows healthcare providers to develop personalized treatment plans that target the root issue.
  • Medication Selection: Certain medications, such as anti-inflammatories would be better for nociceptive pain whereas nerve pain medications are more effective for neuropathic pain. Accurate diagnosis helps in selecting the most appropriate medication.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Lifestyle changes, physical therapy, and coping strategies can vary based on the type of pain. For instance, therapeutic modalities that improve pain in central sensitization would not help a person who only has nociceptive pain. 

Understanding your pain type empowers you to communicate effectively with healthcare providers, leading to more successful pain management strategies. 


Pain is a complex and personal experience, with various types that require tailored approaches to treatment. By working closely with healthcare professionals like Override’s multispecialty chronic pain specialists to identify the type of pain you have, you can pave the way for more effective pain management and ultimately improve your quality of life. 

You don't have to face chronic pain alone – seek the support and guidance from specialists to better work towards relief and recovery.

Posted on 
January 12, 2024

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