September 3


How To Define Your Pain (And, Why It Matters)

By Sue Ingebretson

September 3, 2013

acute pain, arthritis, back aches, chronic ilness, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, headaches, invisible illness, Invisible illness week


Acute Pain and Chronic Pain
Acute Pain and Chronic Pain

In recognition of National Invisible Illness week (September 9 – 15), we’re going tackle the topic of pain. Whether or not you have fibromyalgia, pain is familiar – on some level – to all of us.

Can you tell me in 3 words or less what type of pain you experience? If so, you may be able to help your health and wellness support team determine appropriate treatment.

Get out your thesaurus — there’s lots of ways to describe pain. Do any of the following terms relate to you?

— Is your pain at times short, stabbing, and/or sharp?

— Or, is your pain most of the time miserable, unending, and/or overwhelming?

Your descriptions help to define and categorize your condition:

Notice if your words are specifically physical —

such as sharp, stabbing, burning, throbbing, etc. ;

if so, your pain is more likely to be classified as acute pain.


Notice if your words are more descriptive in nature —

such as miserable, frustrating, agonizing, overwhelming, etc.;

if so, your pain is more likely to be classified as chronic pain.

You may ask, “What’s the diff?” Does it really matter?

Just as with many things in life, when we’re able to zoom in on the specifics of a problem, we’re better able to work on solutions. When members of your health and wellness team (friends, family, doctors, holistic health providers, etc.) get a better idea of what type of pain you experience, they can look for appropriate diagnoses and treatments.

Acute pain typically stems from a specific injury (such as a broken bone, surgery, or a burn, etc.). It’s duration varies, but it usually is short-term in nature.

Notice that the words used to define chronic pain often show emotional feelings rather than only physical feelings. This is a strong clue for medical professionals to assign the diagnosis of fibromyalgia, arthritis, or chronic issues such as headaches and back aches.  The descriptive words demonstrate the destructive toll that constant and chronic pain takes on us at an emotional level. It’s no surprise that chronic pain is sometimes linked to emotional concerns such as anxiety and depression,  

Of course, many of us use mixed terminologies –

our pain can be sometimes stabbing while all the time miserable.

If you’d like to read more on this subject, check out this article from the Cleveland Clinic.

How would you describe your pain? What words do you use most often? Be sure to leave a comment below!


Sue IngebretsonInterested in co-creating your own program to heal from the inside out?

Check out Sue’s Rebuilding Wellness site – and click on the Work With Sue tab to learn more.

  1. Thanks for sharing this, I never thought of it this way, but it is so accurate. When I see my doctors and they ask, there are so so many words that flood my head at once, that I’m sure I never say the right thing… thank goodness I have a rheumy that could see thru it!

    1. Tina – I’m so glad you have great support, too! A wonderful support team is absolutely vital to our success!

  2. I tell people it’s like a brontosaurus picked me up in his mouth and threw me against a wall. Then, he jumps up and down on me. But that is more than 3 words. : )

  3. My pain is constant, deep spasms, unrelenting throbbing, searing pain. Travels from joint to joint. Pain has robbed me of my joy. I try to find happiness in anything I can, grasp in the smallest thing. My spirit has been bruised, refusing to allow the depression to break me. Lost my job, my friends, my life is not mine anymore. Sadness envelops me most days. I refuse to use too many RX drugs. The fear of addiction keeps me from reliance. Most only take the edge off, nothing takes the pain away completly.

    Thanks for listening – that is the Best medicine. To feel like someone – anyone cares!

    1. Cathy — this community, and I personally, definitely do care. We’re here to listen and we’ve been there. I understand the sadness, hopelessness, frustration, and that “bruised” feeling that comes from constant pain. I’m very grateful to no longer feel pain on an every day level, but I remember it vividly. My hope for you is that you’ll find the tools, treatments, and relationships you need to find answers that move you from pain to a life of peace and contentment. I have nearly 200 blog posts here on various subjects that all encourage this community to take part in their own healing process. Let me know if you have questions on how to start. You can always email me here.

  4. It’s so difficult to describe to make someone, even Drs., understand. Sometimes, it’s like shin splints, agonizing. sometimes it’s like I have a bad toothache in my hips and shoulder joints. Sometimes, it’s a shooting pain, like lightning running through my thighs and arms. People just stare at you like you are crazy! One of the worst feelngs is when it hurts to just touch my skin. That one blows there mind. Actually it blows my mind too……

    1. Kimberly – thanks for expressing your experiences with pain. It helps to share and let others know that they’re not alone.

  5. Constant exhausting deep pain with various levels of intensity.

    More then 3 words but believe me, this is actually an extremely short version. Love the article. Words are one of the greatest tools we have and one which not many people really think about. Thanks for writing about this.

    1. Great additions to our list, Ursula! Thanks so much for taking the time to participate in our word-fest going on here!

  6. I’d like to say Thank You to Sue and Sandy Wilson for your kind and caring words. At this point I am probably going through a major reaction to weather season changes which have not affected me this drastically in the past. Just when one gets used to how the body is reacting – Bingo the body will change anything an everything it possibly can. Seems like a cruel joke, and I have not gotten the punch line yet. I like this site, and I am certain I can learn much new information from it. Or re-new information that worked in the past, and have forgotten.
    Thanks again for kindness. This means everything to me.
    Gentle hugs to all.

  7. I suffer with non-cardiac chest pain. It is relentless, suffocating and debilitating! In November 2012 I had a heart attack and bypass X 3. Now I feel like I’m trapped in a episode of the “X Files”, my Doctors make out like I’m crazy…..they haven’t ever had any one experience chronic pain after heart bypass sugery? Honestly it would have been so much better just to have died with the heart attack…..

    1. William, I’m so sorry you’re in pain! Has your doctor — or anyone — ever mentioned costochondritis to you? I suffered with that for a very long time. It’s an inflammatory condition that affects the area surrounding the heart and it’s absolutely excruciating. It can come along with fibromyalgia, autoimmune conditions, and a variety of other syndromes. I wrote about it in my book, FibroWHYalgia, and I think I have in my blog, too. When I healed my body from the inside out, my costochondritis healed as well. Please email me on my site if you’ve got questions or would like to discuss this further.

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