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We have all experienced pain at some stage in our lives. It's an unpleasant sensation and affects our ability to do the activities that we love. But what actually is pain?

This is the first of a three part series delving into pain to help you understand better why you are in pain, and just as important, what you (and your physio) can do to help relieve that pain.


"Pain is an unpleasant feeling, causing a reaction to protect the part that is painful." (Pain Australia)

"An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage." (International Association for the Study of Pain)

Often the cause of pain is obvious - a broken wrist, or a burn on the hand. Sometimes the source of the pain is not as obvious like an arthritic joint or a nerve being pinched.

Nociception refers to the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS) processing of noxious stimuli, such as tissue injury and temperature extremes, which activate nociceptors and their pathways. Pain is the subjective experience one feels as a result of the activation of these pathways.


Acute Pain - immediate pain after an injury or incident. It is usually short lasting - a few days or couple of weeks. Many acute pains are like an alarm telling us that something is wrong. They tell us to protect the injured part until it heals

Chronic Pain - Persistent pain related to an injury that is ongoing. It is pain that lasts beyond the expected healing time

. Often this persistent pain serves no useful purpose. Its the same warning system being used as in acute pain - but its warning us when there is no actual danger or need to protect.

Intermittent or Recurrent Pain - sometimes pain comes then goes away and returns.


  • Pain is always a personal experience that is influenced to varying degrees by biological, psychological and social factors

  • Pain and nociception are different beasts. Pain cannot be inferred solely from activity in sensory receptors

  • Through life experiences individuals learn the concept of pain

  • A person's report of an experience as pain should be respected

  • Although pain usually serves an adaptive role, it may have adverse affects on function, social and emotional wellbeing

  • Pain can be communicated in many ways, not just verbally

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