What is pain?

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Find out why and how you feel pain, whether from JIA or another source, such as a needle or cut, and learn the differences between acute and chronic pain.

Key points

  • Pain is the body's warning system, alerting you that something is wrong.
  • Acute pain is called ordinary or nociceptive pain. It protects us from hurting ourselves.
  • Chronic pain refers to pain that has lasted for at least three months. It does not serve a useful purpose like warning us about something harmful.
  • It may not be possible to eliminate all pain due to JIA, but there are things you can do to reduce your pain.

Everyone has experienced pain, whether from a needle or a cut, or due to something more long-lasting like JIA.

It is really hard to understand someone else’s pain because pain is very personal. It can be difficult for those around you to know how much pain you have when you may not have any visible signs of injury such as a cut, bruise or swollen joint. Likewise, it is hard to describe to other people what your pain feels like. It is like describing the taste of chocolate to someone who has never tasted chocolate before.

Have you ever wondered why you feel pain? Pain is the body's warning system, alerting you that something is wrong. Nerve cells, also called neurons, transmit signals from all the senses including pain. Specialized pain neurons are found throughout the skin and other body tissues. When the pain neurons are stimulated, electrical and chemical signals travel through nerves in the spinal cord to the brain and are interpreted as pain.

Acute pain

Acute pain is called ordinary or nociceptive pain. It is a useful sensation because it protects us from hurting ourselves. If we did not feel pain, we might burn our fingers on the stove or not know when we have a serious injury.

Acute pain is what you feel when normal nerves send messages from the injured body tissues. This is the type of pain you feel from a needle poke for blood work, or from an inflamed joint. This pain is temporary. Acute pain goes away when healing occurs. If inflammation is not well controlled, acute pain can last for minutes to months.

Chronic pain

Chronic pain refers to pain that has lasted for at least three months. Unlike acute pain, chronic pain does not serve a useful purpose like warning us about something harmful. Sometimes with JIA you can have chronic pain because there is repeated or ongoing inflammation of the joints but sometimes there is pain even when there is no inflammation.

Some kinds of chronic pain are not due to normal nerves reporting that tissues are injured or inflamed. Instead, these other kinds of pain, called nerve or neuropathic pain, are due to abnormal messages being sent to the brain by the nerves. This can happen even when the tissue is no longer inflamed or injured.

How we feel pain

How we feel pain

Experts believe that there are many important reasons for why your pain might persist, including:

  • Your physiology, or the way your body is made up.
  • The way your body responds to physical and emotional stress.
  • Your mood and beliefs.
  • The way that parents and friends respond to you.

The good news is that you can learn new ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. These can help change the way that your body experiences pain.

Managing your pain

Pain can be changed by stopping pain signals from reaching your brain. These pain signals can be reduced or blocked anywhere along the pain pathway. It may not be possible to eliminate all pain due to JIA. However, there are things you can do to reduce pain to levels that will let you do the things you want to.

Pain can be modified using:

The following pages provide information on different ways to manage pain.

Last updated: January 31st 2017