Patient Information FAQ's


What is pain?

The brain, not the point of injury, registers the sensation of pain.

When you feel pain, it is a reaction to signals that move through nerves that spread throughout your body. These signals travel from the pain source to the spinal cord to your brain, where you perceive them as pain.

The fact that the brain registers pain is an important point. It means pain can be diminished by preventing pain signals from moving to the brain. If pain signals never reach the brain, you don't feel the pain.


Different types of pain

There are two types of pain, each requiring different treatments.

  • Neuropathic pain is caused by damage to nerve tissue. It is often a burning or stabbing pain. One example of a neuropathic pain is a "pinched nerve." Neurostimulation is commonly used for neuropathic pain.
  • Nociceptive pain is caused by an injury or disease outside the nervous system. It is often an ongoing dull ache or pressure, rather than the sharper, trauma-like pain more characteristic of neuropathic pain. Examples include chronic pain from cancer or arthritis. Intrathecal drug delivery is commonly used for nociceptive pain.

Some people experience mixed pain, which is a combination of neuropathic and nociceptive pain.


Acute versus chronic pain

Acute pain (such as spraining your ankle) warns you of harm or possible damage to tissues in your body. It prevents additional damage by alerting you to react and remove the source of pain.

Chronic pain lasts a long time (over six months) and is not relieved by standard medical management.(1) This pain signal no longer helps, but hinders, your body. Chronic pain may result from a previous injury long since healed. Or it may have an ongoing cause, such as arthritis, cancer, nerve damage, or chronic infection. With chronic pain, normal lifestyles can be restricted or even impossible.

Many people needlessly suffer with chronic pain because they are unaware of treatment options that can help them live more normal lives. If you have chronic pain, seek out information about these various treatment options. Ask your doctor or a doctor who specializes in treating chronic pain, a pain specialist, about the many new ways to treat pain.


How common is chronic pain?

Pain is a major public health problem. It is estimated that chronic pain affects 15% to 33% of the U.S. population,(2) or as many as 70 million people.(3) Chronic pain disables more people than cancer or heart disease and costs the American people more than both combined. Pain costs an estimated $70 billion a year in medical costs, lost working days, and workers' compensation.(4)


Barriers to seeking pain relief

Many people with chronic pain don't seek pain relief or even tell their doctors about their pain. Why not?

  • Fear of being labeled a "bad patient." You won't find relief if your doctor doesn't know about your pain.
  • Fear that increased pain may mean your disease has worsened. Regardless of the state of your disease, the right treatment for pain may improve daily life for you and your family.
  • Fear of addiction to drugs. Research shows that the chance of people with chronic pain becoming addicted to pain-relieving drugs is extremely small. When taken properly for pain, drugs can relieve pain without addiction. Needing medication to control your pain is not addiction.
  • Lack of awareness about pain-therapy options. You may believe there is no hope for your pain, so why discuss it? Be honest with your doctor about your pain, and ask about pain-therapy options available to you. Often, if one therapy isn't effective in controlling your pain, another therapy will be.
  • Fear of being perceived as "weak." Some believe that living stoically with pain is a sign of strength, while seeking help often is considered negative or weak. However, this perception prevents people from having access to available therapies and, ultimately, relief from pain.

Don't let fears and misconceptions keep you from talking about pain with your doctor and other members of your health care team. Help and relief are possible, but only if you discuss your symptoms honestly and openly.


  1. Sternbach, R.A. Pain Patients: Traits and Treatments. New York, NY: Academic Press, 1974.
  2. Bonica, J.J. Importance of the problem. In: Anderson, S., Bond, M., Mehta, M., Swedlow, M. eds. Chronic non-cancer pain. Lancaster, UK: MTP Press, 1987.
  3. Krames, Elliot. Intraspinal opioid therapy for chronic nonmalignant pain: Current practice and clinical guidelines. J Pain and Symptom Management, 1996.
  4. Bonica, JJ. International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP).