General Types of Pain 

Pain can generally be classified into three categories of pain: acute pain, chronic pain, and breakthrough pain:

  • Acute Pain: Acute pain is usually very sharp and severe and lasts for a short or finite period of time.  Acute pain is usually associated with a specific injury and usually disappears when the body heals.
  • Chronic Pain: Chronic pain is a lingering pain that can last almost indefinitely.  Chronic pain can be very difficult to diagnose and can range in severity to minor dull aches to sharp pain that can impact one’s lifestyle.  Due to extended length, chronic pain WILL negatively affect one’s lifestyle and outlook on life.  It is critical that chronic pain is diagnosed and managed quickly to minimize long-term and lasting negative effects on one’s outlook.
  • Breakthrough Pain: Breakthrough pain is most common with cancer patients undergoing treatment.  Breakthrough pain often manifests as an unpredictable, severe flash of pain.  Breakthrough pain can last from minutes to an hour.  Breakthrough pain is debilitating during the episode.


American Cancer Society, Guide to Pain Control, Atlanta, GA, 2001.