What is the definition of pain?

The concept of pain is not always a simple one.1 It is an unpleasant feeling that can come from an injury, but can also happen when there is no injury.2 Pain can be described using many words like ‘sharp’, ‘burning’, ‘aching’, ‘pounding’ and ‘stabbing’.1

Acute versus chronic pain

Acute Pain

Happens because of an injury or a trauma

Chronic Pain

Pain that goes on for longer than 3 months.

Pain can be defined as either ‘acute’ or ‘chronic’. Acute pain often happens because of an injury or a trauma, and resolves within three to six months. Chronic pain, however, is pain that goes on for longer than 3 months, and can be a continuous or intermittent pain that persists even after the original injury has physically healed.3

Pain is an emotional experience and is different for every person. Pain is often difficult to define because it is an experience that is whatever the experiencing person says it is, existing whenever they say it does.3

Pain can impact your quality of life

Managing pain can be a very complex task, but it is really important that pain is managed in the best way possible. If acute pain is not managed well, it can progress to chronic pain, and chronic pain can significantly impact a person’s life. Your pain treatment plan should therefore aim to help you achieve a satisfactory quality of life.3

You can access more information on the healthcare professional team that may be part of your care plan.


  1. Cohen M, et al. Pain Reports. Mar/Apr 2018. 3(2):p e634
  2. International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP). IASP Terminology. 2017. Accessed April 2023.
  3. Orr PM, et al. Crit Care Nurs Clin N Am. 2017;29:407–18.

M-N/A-UK-04-23-0008-MAY 2023