Pain is a language few of us wish to learn. Nonetheless, a translation manual may help when pain becomes a distraction and demands a response. Usually, pain is our body’s way of telling us we have sustained an injury that needs attention –a broken leg or stubbed toe. This kind of pain will not go away unless the injury has been addressed, for instance by casting the broken leg or allowing time to elapse for the stubbed toe. This pain is called “Somatic pain” and it often feels like dull aching, throbbing, or sharp stabbing sensations.
Other times, pain is more the reminder of an injury. When you burn a finger or get a papercut, the skin around the injury is just as sensitive as the injured skin. This is called “Neuropathic pain” and it usually comes from the chemical irritants that help our body heal from a wound. This type of pain often feels like a burning, electrical, or shooting sensation. Occasionally, when neuropathic pain goes on for too long or the nerves themselves are injured such as in traumatic amputations or diabetic nerve injury, the pain can become ingrained and continue in spite of resolution of the injury.
Somatic and neuropathic pains have different treatments. When ignored or simply masked with pain medications alone, the pain can become chronic through repetition, similar to how we remember new names or numbers. Modern pain management physicians are well versed in the language of pain and the science behind uncovering the source, not just treating the symptom. Learning to speak the language of pain with descriptions, such as neuropathic or somatic, helps uncover and treat the pain at its root so that we can go back to speaking our preferred language with a smile.