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Understanding the Pain Response

Your pain is important. It can slow healing and keep you from being active. You might miss out on what is important to you. Your pain may be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Both types of pain can respond to treatment. It is important to work with your healthcare provider. Together you can find a way to manage pain and restore function.

Types of pain

Acute pain is caused by a health problem or injury. The pain goes away when its cause is treated. The pain may be caused from the following:

  • An illness or injury that needs emergency care

  • An operation, such as heart surgery

  • During and after the birth of your baby

Chronic pain lasts 3 to 6 months or more. It can be started by a health problem or injury, such as arthritis or a shoulder injury, but will continue long after the tissues have healed. Chronic pain can also exist without a clear cause. Chronic pain needs to be treated differently than acute pain. Things that work for acute pain (such as rest, not moving, or medicines) can actually make chronic pain worse.

How pain works in the body

Acute pain

All pain signals travel to the brain. The brain sends back signals to protect the body. The brain also sends out its own painkillers (endorphins). These can help reduce the pain. Here is how acute pain works:

Outline of human figure showing brain and spinal cord. Arrows show pain signals to and from brain.

1.  Pain starts in 1 or more parts of the body. In some cases, the site of the pain is far from its source.

2.  Pain signals move through nerves and up the spinal cord.

3.  The brain reads the signals as pain. Natural painkillers can be released.

4.  The feeling of pain is reduced.

Chronic pain

Chronic pain is more complicated. Many systems in your body can be involved. It does not respond to the same treatments as acute pain. There are healthcare providers who can help you with chronic pain.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 6/1/2018
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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