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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Types of Pain

By Peter W. Hellyer, DVM, MS, DACVA, Associate Dean for the Professional Veterinary Medical Program, College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University

Because pain is often a response to actual or potential tissue damage, it has a protective role. For example, if a muscle strain or pull causes pain in a limb, not putting weight on that limb can help prevent further injury.

The most common types of pain can be categorized as acute, chronic, cancer, and neuropathic.

Acute pain is the normal, predictable, noticeable response to an undesirable stimulus (such as twisting, crushing, or burning) or tissue injury (such as bruises, wounds, and surgical incisions). People describe acute pain as sharp, throbbing, aching, or burning. Acute pain generally improves within the first 3 days after the event that caused it.

Chronic pain persists for longer than the expected time frame for healing, or it can be associated with progressive noncancerous disease, such as osteoarthritis.

Cancer pain is the result of primary tumor growth, a spreading cancerous disease, or the toxic effects of chemotherapy or radiation.

Neuropathic pain results from damage to a nerve or some other part of the central nervous system. This type of pain is frequently not diagnosed in veterinary medicine, mainly because animals cannot communicate a problem such as a tingling sensation.

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