Four different classifications of pain exist in the body: somatic, visceral, sympathetic and neuropathic pain. Somatic and visceral pain are nociceptive pains while neuropathic and sympathetic are non-nociceptive. The type of pain you are experiencing diagnoses what is causing the pain as well as determines proper treatment for the pain. In addition to the classifications of pain, your pain may be chronic or acute, which will also affect pain management programs.
Nociceptive Pain vs Non-Nociceptive Pain
Nociceptive pain is pain resulting from pain receptors. When a pain receptor is stimulated, such as being burned or cut, the pain receptors send signals to the brain so the body can take action, either by removing you from danger or receiving medical aid. Somatic and visceral pain respond to heat and cold as well as vibrations, stretching and chemical interactions. Non-nociceptive pain stems from a problem in the central or peripheral nervous system. No pain receptors exist in these two systems; therefore, the pain is caused by nerve dysfunction sending signals.
Somatic pain is referred to as musculoskeletal pain. It is found in tissue such as skin and muscles as well as in joints, bones and ligaments. Somatic pain is often characterized as a sharp pain localized in a specific area of injury. Swelling, cramping and bleeding may exist with somatic pain. This classification of pain responds to a variety of medications, including opioids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Visceral pain is anther type of nociceptive pain located within the main body cavity due to injury or illness to an internal organ. The three main centers for visceral pain are the thorax, abdomen and pelvis. The pain receptors in the visceral cavities respond to stretching, swelling and oxygen deprivation. Opioids are the most effective pain medication for this classification of pain, which feels like a deep ache with cramping. Visceral pain may radiate to other locations in the back and chest.
Acute pain refers to a sudden injury that causes trauma to body tissue. This may be the result of a cut, burn or other accident. When a person experiences a major body trauma, both somatic and visceral pain may be perceived. For example, a person who is stabbed in the abdomen will have somatic nerves stimulated as well as visceral nerves. The body responds to the most intense pain primarily. In this case, the person would feel the visceral pain over the somatic pain because the organs in the abdomen require immediate attention for survival as opposed to skin damage.
Chronic pain is pain that persists for more than 3 months. Chronic pain is more difficult for a doctor to assess than acute pain because the pain levels may go up and down without any change to an injured or damaged area. Chronic pain, whether somatic or visceral, can affect a person's life dramatically. It can impede daily activities and make simple things difficult. Chronic visceral pain may indicate a serious health condition such as cancer. If you are suffering from chronic pain, discuss your treatment options with your doctor to find the root of the problem and develop an appropriate treatment plan.