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What is Pain?


We have all experienced pain and we will all go on to experience pain. It may be an acute pain from something as simple as stubbing your toe, or it could be a more enduring pain caused by an ongoing condition such as arthritis. It’s an unfortunate fact of life but, as such, there’s no harm in knowing a bit more about pain itself. We’ve put together this article to try to help answer some of the questions that you may have about it.

The duration of pain

It may be helpful to break down the ways in which we usually classify pain. Often, this is done by duration. As such, we can describe pain in the following ways –

  • Acute pain. Acute pain is a short-term pain (that is, a pain lasting for less than three months), an example of this could be the pain caused by a sprained ankle.
  • Chronic pain. This can also be described as ‘long-term’ or ‘persistent’ pain and could relate to conditions such as arthritis.
  • Recurrent pain. Another label that is sometimes attached to this is ‘intermittent’ pain, due to the fact that it can come and go. Toothache can often present in this way.


Why do we experience pain?

Broadly, we can divide pain into three types –

  • Nociceptive. We can see this kind of pain as having a protective purpose. It’s the pain that comes from our body detecting some kind of stimulus that will be harmful to us. For instance, if we touch something too hot then the pain is telling us to stop doing so before we sustain any further damage to our body.
  • Inflammatory. Pain of this nature comes from tissue damage. Again, the pain can serve a purpose. In this case it makes us hypersensitive to pain and focuses us on being protective of the damaged area, helping with the repair process.
  • Pathological. This type of pain is caused either by damage to the nervous system (which is classed as neuropathic) or by the nervous system functioning abnormally (dysfunctional). Dysfunctional pain doesn’t have the useful purpose that nociceptive or inflammatory pain have, as it’s a result of our body not reacting properly.


How can pain be measured?

It’s very difficult to measure pain as it is the individual’s own experience of it that matters. As such, pain tends to be measured by patients themselves. One of the most common ways of doing this is using a ‘pain scale’, with patients asked to gauge their level of pain between 1 and 10, with 0 being no pain, 5 being moderate pain and 10 being the highest level of pain that can be imagined.

Scientists in America have made progress in using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify and predict pain levels within patients.* They monitored the brain activity of test participants exposed to pain from heat and were able to detect patterns in this activity, apparently allowing them to identify and predict pain levels with over 95% accuracy. It will be some time before their findings are able to be put into clinical use though.


How big a problem is pain?

As well as causing discomfort and suffering to the individual, pain also has a wider effect on society as a whole.

  • Back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders were estimated to be responsible for the loss of 7.6 million working days in the UK from 2010 to 2011.
  • After stress, back pain is the second most common cause of long-term sickness in the UK.
  • The Scottish Government estimates that up to one in five adults in Scotland are affected by chronic pain.
  • The total cost to the UK exchequer of all forms of chronic pain combined is unknown…but the estimated cost of back pain alone is £5bn per annum.


At The Edinburgh Clinic our holistic approach to pain management means that we are able to offer a One Stop Pain Clinic, dealing with the physical, emotional, and functional challenges raised by chronic pain. Of our wide range of services, the following ones are available via self-referral –

  • Acupuncture
  • Specialist physiotherapy
  • Psychology and CBT support for pain sufferers


Other pain management services require a GP referral. These services are –

  • Full consultation with a pain specialist
  • Diagnostic imaging for the investigation of pain within the body
  • Blood tests for further pathological investigation
  • Pain medication
  • Image-guided injections and on-site day-case operating theatre for pain management injections, such as an epidural


To make an appointment, or simply to find out more, please contact us now.

0131 447 2340



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