It is as much of the business of a physician to alleviate pain, and to smooth the avenues of death, when unavoidable, as to cure diseases. John Gregory (1725–73), Lectures on the Duties and Qualifications of a Physician
Pain is the capital symptom of humans—the great hallmark of disease—the signal par excellence to the patient and doctor that all is not well.
In modern medicine the successful management of chronic pain, in particular, still poses a great challenge. Its management or mismanagement is a yardstick of the excellence of that important bond—the doctor–patient relationship.
Pain is a multifactorial problem. The suffering patient must not only deal with the painful sensation itself but also cope with its possible serious significance.
Does chest pain imply a pending heart attack?
Does chronic ache or acute pain signify cancer?
Does ‘whiplash’ imply neck pain to the grave?
Chronic pain is the most challenging problem. It must be emphasised that it always starts as an acute episode and that back pain accounts for the majority of cases of chronic pain encountered in general practice.
Pain is defined as ‘an unpleasant sensory and motional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage’. The box below defines the variety of types of pain.
Glossary of terms1
Allodynia Pain due to a stimulus that does not normally provoke pain.
Mechanical—light touch feels painful.
Temperature—hot/cold stimulus (normally not painful) is painful.
Anaesthesia dolorosa Pain in an area or region that is anaesthetic.
Analgesia Absence of pain in response to stimulation that would normally be painful.
Causalgia A syndrome of sustained burning pain, allodynia and hyperpathia after a traumatic nerve lesion, often combined with vasomotor and sudomotor dysfunction and later trophic changes (now known as complex regional pain syndrome II).
Central pain Pain associated with a lesion of the central nervous system.
Dysaesthesia An unpleasant abnormal sensation, whether spontaneous or evoked (e.g. formication—a feeling like ants crawling on the skin).
Hyperaesthesia Increased sensitivity to stimulation, excluding the special senses.
Hyperalgesia An increased response to a stimulus that is normally painful (i.e. painful stimulus feels much more painful than expected, such as firm finger pressure).
Hyperpathia A painful syndrome, characterised by an increased reaction to a stimulus, especially a repetitive stimulus, as well as an increased threshold for sensory detection.
Hypoaesthesia Decreased sensitivity to stimulation, excluding the special senses.
Hypoalgesia Diminished pain in response to a normally painful stimulus.
Incident pain Pain that occurs on, or is exacerbated by, an activity (e.g. coughing, wound dressing, movement, weight-bearing).
Neuralgia Pain in the distribution of a nerve or nerves.
Neuritis Inflammation of a nerve or nerves.
Neuropathic pain Pain caused ...
Log In to View More
If you don't have a subscription, please view our individual subscription options below to find out how you can gain access to this content.
Want remote access to your institution's subscription?
Sign in to your MyAccess profile while you are actively authenticated on this site via your institution (you will be able to verify this by looking at the top right corner of the screen - if you see your institution's name, you are authenticated). Once logged in to your MyAccess profile, you will be able to access your institution's subscription for 90 days from any location. You must be logged in while authenticated at least once every 90 days to maintain this remote access.
If your institution subscribes to this resource, and you don't have a MyAccess profile, please contact your library's reference desk for information on how to gain access to this resource from off-campus.
Murtagh Collection Full Site: One-Year Subscription
Connect to a suite of general practice resources from one of the most influential authors in the field. Learn the breadth of general practice, including up-to-date information on diagnosis and treatment, as well as key clinical skills like communication.
Pay Per View: Timed Access to all of Murtagh Collection
48 Hour Subscription $34.95
Pop-up div Successfully Displayed
This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over.
Otherwise it is hidden from view.