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What is pain?

“When we experience pain, it is our body’s and our brain’s attempt to try to protect us from something,” said local pain specialist Dr. Kevin Cuccaro. That attempt has three parts: sensation, cognition, and emotion.

While sensation (what we might describe as achy, dull, or stabbing) usually gets the focus, it's not the whole picture. Other portions of our experience — how we think about pain, and how it makes us feel emotionally — play just as great a role.

Knowing this, we can address each element specifically, targeting the parts of our experience that cause suffering. While a physician may not have time to get into this themselves, they can refer patients to ancillary providers who do.

When we get people “to think differently about pain, we can start treating it differently, so that we have different outcomes,” said Dr. Cuccaro. He talks more about the three elements of pain in the video below.

Different types of pain: acute and persistent

Acute pain comes on suddenly and ends after a short while, anywhere from a few days to a few months. It may be caused by an injury or brought on by a specific event, and it often has to do with muscle, bone, or organ damage.

Persistent pain lasts longer — more than 90 days — and needs to be addressed with an active treatment plan. It can be caused by recurring workplace injuries, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, sedentary lifestyles, and the like.

These terms, acute and persistent (or chronic), are just two of the ways that physicians categorize pain. Regardless, it’s important to understand that every person’s experience of pain is unique. That’s why the first step in a successful treatment plan is to see a doctor and get an accurate diagnosis.

Take control, take care

Once you know the cause of your pain, you can create a pain treatment plan that helps you take back control of your life. There are many options out there: lifestyle changes, alternative treatments like acupuncture or cognitive behavioral therapy, pain relievers, and more.

Knowledge is power. So get to know your options and talk with your doctor or pain specialist to create an active recovery plan that fits your needs.


Next: Learn about pain treatment options »

Find local resources to help you understand and treat pain

» Classes and events

» Organizations and support groups

Find local resources to help you understand and treat pain

» Classes and events

» Organizations and support groups