Understanding pain

Pain is an unpleasant physical and emotional sensation. The physical sensation can be described as sharp, stabbing, burning, or tearing and can be constant or throbbing in nature. The emotional experience of pain can include fear, stress, anxiety, and even depression.

Pain can be classified broadly into acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain refers to pain caused by tissue damage or disease that lasts for only a short time. It resolves when the underlying cause of pain has healed or been treated. Chronic pain is pain that persists beyond the normal expected healing time (generally longer than 3 months). Chronic pain is a common health concern, affecting 1 out of every 5 Canadians. The causes of chronic pain can be difficult to diagnose but can often be treated with success. Although for some, eliminating chronic pain can be challenging.

Acute pain can be caused by:

  • injuries such as sprains, strains, or fractures
  • migraines
  • minor or major surgical procedures
  • dental treatment
  • infections
  • appendicitis
  • gallstones
  • burns
  • childbirth

Chronic pain can be caused by:

  • nerve damage
  • arthritis
  • cancer
  • fibromyalgia
  • osteoarthritis
  • continuing pain after an injury has healed
  • psychological factors

Treating acute pain is relatively straightforward as it generally responds to most pain-relieving options. However, treating chronic pain can be a challenge. The early recognition and treatment of chronic pain is critical because the longer the pain persists, the more resistant it becomes to treatment.