What is Pain?

Estimated time to read 4 min, 662 words (disclaimer)

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines pain as “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage”.

What does this mean?

Let’s begin with the most important concept of pain, which is to understand that PAIN IS ALWAYS REAL and understanding it helps to decrease pain.

This definition of pain by the IASP consists very important concepts.

1. Pain can be an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience.

Examples of unpleasant sensory experiences include touching an object that is too hot or too cold, burns, getting a paper cut, getting pinched, excessive pressure or tissue injury.

Examples of unpleasant emotional experiences leading to pain include an increase in stress, expecting pain, or worrying that there is a problem with a body part.

2. Pain can occur because of actual tissue damage or potential tissue damage.

I think we know that actual tissue damage can lead to pain and examples are probably not needed.

An example of potential tissue damage creating a unpleasant sensation includes touching a hot stove and moving your hand before you experience pain. Protecting the body from injury is thought to be a reason why pain can increase due to potential tissue damage.

In the book Painful Yarns by Lorimer Moseley, he shares a story about a snake bite experience to explain how pain can occur due to potential tissue damage to protect the body.  While on a hiking adventure, he felt a scratch on his leg. He didn’t think anything about it, but ended up in the hospital because he was bitten by the second most deadliest snake in the world. He recovered from the injury and something interesting occurred when he went hiking again. While walking, he felt the same exact scratch on his leg, but this time he fell to the ground in agony. A friend went to his aide and was ready to call for help. He looked at his ankle and it turned out to be just a scratch.

Why would a simple scratch the first time have minimal pain, then the second time, be very painful?

Moseley explains that after experiencing a medical emergency when he felt the first scratch, his nervous system created a memory of the incident. The second scratch triggered the memory of the pain to protect the body from potential injury. It may also be associated with sensitivity of the nerves.

This experience is similar to a child that you tickle. After tickling a child for a prolonged period of time, they can laugh and protect their body even if you wiggle your fingers without touching them. Tickling a child can make them more sensitive to being tickled. Much like pain may increase the sensitivity to more pain in the future.

Please remember that the body requires a brain, spinal cord, and nerves to experience pain. Most treatment theories focus on how joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons move and activate. This website will also focus on the neurological aspect of how the various parts of the body are connected and how we can change the nervous system in a positive way through education, movement exercises, and manual therapy.

Pain scientists are publishing new information about pain on a constant basis and the information found in this website may be considered completely foreign.  This website discusses every aspect of the IASP’s pain definition and how to address each component to help understand and hopefully find ways to improve.

References will be provided in the upcoming chapters which are designed for readers and  health care providers to obtain the sources of the information that is posted on this website.

Let’s be positive and try to find ways to help improve ourselves.


International Association for the Study of Pain. IASP Taxonomy. http://www.iasp-pain.org/Education/Content.aspx?ItemNumber= 1698[/embed]. Accessed May 27, 2014.

Moseley GL. Painful Yarns: Stories and Metaphors to Help Understand the Biology of Pain. Canberra, Australia Dancing Giraffe Press; 2007

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