Pain Center Glossary

Over the course of your treatment, you may hear many terms used to describe pain, specific conditions or pain management tools.

The glossary below is designed to help clarify any words that may not be clear. If you have questions after looking at the glossary below, don't hesitate to ask your doctor for more information.

  • Acute pain - Pain that comes on quickly, can be severe, but lasts a fairly short time.
  • Allodynia - When something that normally isn't painful causes pain (such as clothing touching the skin).
  • Analgesia - Not being able to feel pain while still conscious. Analgesic drugs relieve pain.
  • Anesthesia - Loss of feeling or awareness. A general anesthetic puts the person to sleep. A local anesthetic causes loss of feeling in a part of the body without making the person lose consciousness. Regional anesthesia numbs a larger part of the body such as a leg or arm, also without affecting consciousness
  • Antidepressant - A type of drug used to treat depression. These types of drugs are sometimes used to treat related problems such as not being able to sleep or muscle spasms
  • Autonomic nervous system - The part of the nervous system that controls the working of the heart muscle, the muscles of the digestive tract, the lungs and the glands.
  • Causalgia (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome II) - Intense burning pain and sensitivity to the slightest touch. The pain usually develops in a hand or foot, some distance away from a wound that has healed.
  • Central nervous system - The brain and the spinal cord.
  • Chronic pain - Pain that lasts more than a month after an injury heals. Chronic pain also refers to pain that comes back over months or is caused by something that is not expected to heal.
  • Clinical trials - Carefully planned and monitored tests of a new drug or treatment to see how effective it is.
  • Cognitive - Relating to the process of knowing or being aware. Cognition includes thinking, learning and judging.
  • Diabetic neuropathy - Numbness of pain and weakness in the hands, arms, feet or legs caused by the effects of diabetes on the nerves. Diabetes may cause nerve problems in every organ system.
  • Herpes zoster - Also called shingles, zona or zoster. See shingles or postherpetic neuralgia.
  • Hyperalgesia - Extreme sensitivity to pain.
  • Hyperpathia - An exaggerated response to something that causes pain, with continued pain after the cause of the pain is no longer present.
  • Migraine - A severe headache that may bring nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, dizziness, blurred vision or other symptoms. Some migraines do not include headache. Some migraines are signaled by an aura or other sign that a migraine is coming on.
  • Myofascial pain - Pain or tenderness in a muscle.
  • Myositis - Swelling and tenderness of muscle tissue. Myositis can be caused by injuries, diseases or certain drugs.
  • Nerve blocks - Injections of anesthetic (or numbing) substances into nerves in order to reduce pain.
  • Neuralgia - Pain along the length of a nerve.
  • Neuropathic pain - Chronic pain due to an injury to the nervous system or a disease such as multiple sclerosis or stroke. Neuropathic pain can affect any nerve in the body. An estimated 2 million people in the United States have neuropathic pain.
  • Pain - An unpleasant feeling that may or may not be related to an injury, illness, or other bodily trauma. Pain is complex and differs from person to person.
  • Pain management - The process of providing medical care to eliminate or reduce pain.
  • Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) - A way of giving pain medication that allows the patient to control when and how much medication they get depending on their need. The pain medication is usually given through a blood vessel or a needle under the skin. This type of pain control is used for people who are recovering for abdominal, bone or chest surgery or who have chronic pain such as that due to cancer.
  • Peripheral nervous system - All the nerves of the body except the brain and spinal cord.
  • Phantom pain - Pain that follows some amputations. To the patient, the pain feels like it is coming from the missing body part.
  • Postherpetic neuralgia - This is pain along nerves affected by an outbreak of shingles that lasts longer than a month.
  • Psychological approaches - Ways of helping patient cope with pain and related emotions that can increase pain. These include biofeedback, imagery, hypnosis, relaxation training, stress management, cognitive-behavioral therapy and counseling.
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome I) - Similar to causalgia, this condition is a burning pain that appears with signs such as skin color changes, temperature changes, sweating or swelling. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy is caused by injury to bone, joint, or soft tissues.
    Sciatic nerve - The largest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve begins in the lower back, passes through the buttock area down into the legs.
  • Shingles - An acute infection caused by the herpes zoster virus, the same virus as causes chickenpox. Shingles is most common after the age of 50 and the risk rises with advancing age.
  • Spasm - A brief, automatic jerking movement. When the muscle tightens, it can be quite painful. Spasms in various types of tissue may be caused by stress, medications, too much exercise or other factors.
  • Sympathetic nervous system - The sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system make up the autonomic nervous system. The Sympathetic nervous system can speed up the heart rate, cause blood vessels to narrow and make the blood pressure go up.
  • Symptom - Any condition that a person considers to show the presence of a disease or abnormality. Only the patient can perceive the presence of a symptom. Symptoms include such things as pain, anxiety and fatigue. By contrast, a sign is objective evidence of disease. A rash, a fever or vomiting can all be seen by the patient, the doctor or an outside observer.
  • Syndrome - A set of signs and symptoms that tend to appear together. The combination of the linked signs and symptoms reflect the presence of a particular disease.
  • Tic - A repeated movement that the person who has it cannot control. Tics can affect any group of muscles. Common tics include eye blinking, nose twitching or face grimacing. Some tics affect the muscles of speech. These can cause a person to make uncontrollable noises, sounds or repeated words or phrases. Complex tics can cause a person to make a series of movements such as twirling in place, tapping or stooping to touch the ground. Tics are believed to arise in differences in or damage to the basal ganglia, a structure deep within the brain that controls automatic movements and that also affects impulsivity.
  • Trauma - An injury that can be either physical or emotional.
  • Trigeminal neuralgia - Tenderness and swelling of the trigeminal nerve (the fifth cranial nerve). It causes bouts of intense, lightening pain in the lips, eye area, nose, scalp, forehead, gums, cheek and chin on one side of the face. A less common form of the disease causes a more constant, dull, burning or aching pain
  • Trigger - Something that sets off a disease in people who are genetically predisposed to developing the disease or causes a certain symptom to occur in a person who has a disease.