Pain is not easy to define. Some experts simply describe it as an unpleasant emotional and physical experience possibly linked with injured tissue. 1 IASP Taxonomy. International Association for the Study of Pain. May 22, 2012. Available at Accessed April 2015.

This definition acknowledges that all pain has an emotional or psychological component. A person’s emotional or psychological reaction to pain is referred to as suffering. Suffering is less of an issue in acute pain, and is usually considered a more significant factor in chronic pain.

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The concept of suffering is helpful in understanding how different people react to pain sensations that are perceived due to actual tissue damage. A person may have little physically wrong but complain (or suffer) greatly, while another person with serious and painful medical problems may cope effectively and seem to suffer relatively little. Neither of these individuals is faking; rather, their experience of suffering due to the pain is different.

If an individual is suffering greatly, then a pain psychologist can often be helpful in determining the reason for the high level of suffering and providing treatment directed specifically at reducing it.


Getting Help for Chronic Pain

Pain is an important way in which the body communicates. Ignoring pain can delay diagnosis and treatment and exacerbate the problem. Moreover, ignoring pain can needlessly extend the physical discomfort. A physician can help determine the source of pain, the seriousness of the condition, and a course of treatment. In some cases, it is necessary to seek help from a pain specialist to specifically address the sensation of pain.

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Dr. William Deardorff is a clinical health psychologist and specializes in providing psychological services to patients with chronic pain and spinal conditions. He has led a private practice for more than 30 years.