What is my pain?

Pain is a very subjective experience and can also be complicated because there are different types of pain produced by the body. Did you know that pain is recognized as the “fifth vital sign”?  Below are a few different types of pain and common descriptors for each type of pain and common sources of pain.

Types of pain and common descriptors:

  • Vascular = throbbing, pounding, pulsating, beating
  • Neurogenic = burning, stinging, shooting, electrical, crushing, searing
  • Musculoskeletal = sore, achy, dull, cramping, deep
  • Emotional = tiring, agonizing, exhausting

Given there are many different descriptors of pain it is important to note that there are good and bad types of pain. The good pain can be if you feel muscle soreness or fatigue  following a workout and the bad pain would be when you feel something sharp that feels like you cannot continue. It is important to be aware of the different types of pain and listen to what your body is telling you because no one else knows what you are feeling better than yourself.

Sources of pain:

  • Cutaneous -related to the skin
    • Typically well localized and can be pointed with one finger
    • Usually due to a superficial structure but can be a result of referred pain from other structures
  • Somatic – includes the musculoskeletal system, nervous system, or both together
    • Most common type treated by Physical Therapists
    • Described as dull or aching
    • Can be superficial (tendons, muscles, ligaments) or deep (joints, nerve, bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments)
  • Visceral – related to internal organs and heart muscles
    • Organs can include digestive, respiratory, abdominal, etc.
    • Tends to be poorly localized and is diffuse
  • Neuropathic – due to damages of the peripheral or central nervous system
    • Described as shooting, burning, nagging
    • Can be localized or extend along parts of the body
  • Referred – pain felt in an area away from the cause
    • Can be pointed to where it hurts but there is no definitive border

We can help: Did you know that in Georgia physical therapy qualifies for direct access? That means that you can seek physical therapy treatment without a doctor’s referral. When you come in, we will ask you about your pain behavior and what is going on to then try to determine the source of symptoms to help guide our treatment plan for you.

In summary, our bodies can produce a variety of different types of pain and as Physical Therapists we can help you to manage or alleviate your pain by helping to treat the source of pain through conservative management. Conservative methods include exercise, dry needling, manual (hands on) techniques, ultrasound, and neuromuscular reeducation.


Goodman CC, Heick J, Lazaro RT. Pain types and viscerogenic pain pattern. Differential Diagnosis for Physical Therapists. 6th ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders Elsevier; 2017: 90-109.

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All Health Physical Therapy Inc.

Call Us: (770) 493-6360

Visit Us: 2060 E Exchange Place Suite 100
Tucker, GA 30084

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