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Types of Chronic Pain

Updated on August 10, 2021
Medically reviewed by
James Cyriac, M.D.
Article written by
Kelly Crumrin

There are several different ways to categorize types of chronic pain. Chronic pain may be classified by whether or not it has a clear cause. When the cause of chronic pain is known, it may be categorized by its cause. Chronic pain can be organized by the body part or tissue in which it is felt, or which nerve is associated with the pain. Some types of chronic pain are categorized as syndromes, or collections of symptoms. Many people have more than one type of chronic pain.

Different treatments may be more effective for different types of chronic pain.

Cause

When the underlying cause of chronic pain is known, doctors may diagnose and describe it by its cause. Examples of pain described by its cause include:

  • Postsurgical pain
  • Postherpetic neuralgia (pain after shingles — herpes zoster)
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Cancer pain

Chronic pain is a common symptom of many conditions, including endometriosis, migraine, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease), fibromyalgia, spondylitis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Some scientists refer to pain as either neuropathic (related to nerve damage) or nociceptive (related to damage in other body tissues).

Location

Some doctors may refer to pain simply by the general location where it occurs in the body. Examples include:

  • Lower back pain
  • Upper back pain
  • Joint pain
  • Chronic abdominal pain
  • Headaches
  • Leg cramps
  • Plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the ligament on the bottom of the foot)

Doctors may also refer to types of pain by the tissue in which they occur, rather than a specific body part. Each tissue causes different pain sensations, and pain in some tissues may be treated differently than others. Examples of pain in specific tissues includes:

  • Skin pain
  • Bone pain
  • Visceral pain (organs of the chest, abdomen, or pelvis)
  • Bursitis (inflammation of the sacs that cushion the joints)
  • Neuropathic pain (nerve damage)
  • Polyneuropathy (affects peripheral nerves)

Some types of chronic pain are named for the specific nerves that are involved. These include:

  • Sciatica
  • Radicular pain (or radiculopathy), pain that radiates along a spinal nerve root
  • Trigeminal neuralgia (also called tic douloureux)

Neuroma (painful scar) and phantom limb pain are other types of neuropathic pain.

Pain Syndromes

A syndrome is a collection of associated symptoms that forms a pattern. Some syndromes have a known cause, but others do not. Some types of chronic pain are described as syndromes. Chronic pain syndromes include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS — formerly known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), causalgia, or sympathetically maintained pain)
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome

Condition Guide

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James Cyriac, M.D. is assistant clinical professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at UC Irvine Health. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Kelly Crumrin is a senior editor at MyHealthTeam and leads the creation of content that educates and empowers people with chronic illnesses. Learn more about her here.

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