If you ask someone what pain is, you will likely get an answer like "an uncomfortable feeling" or "a feeling that causes suffering". And they would be right. However, the medical community is constantly reviewing how it defines the medical conditions to make sure they are as accurate as possible. This year the word "pain" has been optimized.
In 1979, the International Association for Pain Research defined pain as "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or described in relation to, actual or potential tissue damage". Now, in 2020, the definition has changed, albeit in a subtle way: "An uncomfortable sensory experience associated with or similar to actual or potential tissue damage."
What is the difference? The first definition focused on acute or chronic pain that had an obvious cause – a broken leg, a herniated disc, an infected wound. However, no pain was treated that had no obvious cause, such as fibromyalgia or phantom pain.
Another difference is that the 1979 definition mentions how pain is described. But not everyone can describe pain. For example, you can be non-verbal or have dementia. This difference may seem insignificant, but it isn't. "By changing this language, doctors can adequately account for pain in disempowered and neglected populations such as children, the elderly, and people with disabilities," said Srinivasa Raja, M.B.B.S., in a press release. Dr. Raja is Professor of Anaesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Chair of the IASP Task Force that produced the revised description.
"When pain affects people's function, psyche and social well-being, it needs to be recognized by the insurance companies who dictate who will be cared for and what aspects of their multidisciplinary care will be reimbursed," added Dr. Raja added.