How to Identify Where Your Pain is Coming From and What It Means

Because pain is a primary indicator in many diseases, it’s important to be able to identify and describe pain to your health practitioner. First let’s talk about how to identify where the pain is coming from.

Where is the Pain?

Localized pain is confined to the site of the origin of the pain. (For example: If I stub my toe, I now feel pain on that toe)

Projected pain typically is a result of proximal nerve compression. This pain is perceived in the tissue supplied by the nerve. (For example: I feel pain/sensation all the way down my leg and it is a result of a pinched sciatic nerve) 

Radiating Pain is diffuse pain around the site of the origin that is not well-localized. (For example: I feel pain down my leg, can’t really pinpoint where it is but when my massage therapist works on my glutes the pain goes away.)

Referred Pain is felt in an area distant from the site of the painful stimulus. (I am feeling chronic low back pain and nothing makes it feel better. After going to check with my doctor, I find out I have pancreatitis.)

As you can see, identifying the location of the pain is essential to understanding the complexity of your painful situation (pun intended).

What Type of Pain is it?

Pricking or bright pain: This type of pain is experienced when the skin is cut or jabbed with a sharp object.

Burning Pain: This type is slower to develop, lasts longer, and is less accurately localized. It is experienced when the skin is burned. (not to be confused with a burning sensation when getting Trigger Point Therapy)

Aching Pain: This type of pain occurs when the visceral organs are stimulated. It is constant, not well localized, and often is referred to areas of the body far from where the damage is occurring. This type of pain is important to pay attention to because it can be a sign of a life-threatening disorder of a vital organ. It also happens monthly to most women during their menstrual cycle– so don’t be alarmed in that case. 🙂

Deep Pain: Unlike superficial pain, deep pain is poorly localized (you can’t figure out where it is coming from), nauseating, and frequently associated with sweating and changes in blood pressure. This type of pain initiates the pain-spasm-pain cycle. The Pain-Spasm-Pain cycle is what happens when we have an injury then subsequently feel “stuck” and finally, more pain. In chronic issues, massage therapy and other forms of bodywork are very useful in helping to “break” the Pain-Spasm-Pain Cycle.

Muscle Pain: The most widely recognized reasons for muscle pain are pressure, stress, overuse and minor wounds. This sort of pain is normally restricted, influencing only a couple muscles or small areas of your body at a time. Your best bet in this situation is to stretch, get a massage or foam roll to avoid the pain snowballing into a pain-spasm-pain cycle.

So, paying attention to these differences will not only alert you when something is really wrong, but it can also ease some of your anxiety (and obsessive hours of Web-MD searches).