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Glossary of Pain Terms Cheat Sheet by

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Here is a brief list of common terms terms used in the care and docume­ntation of a patient's pain. The goal is to better understand the language and docume­ntation that should be available for a patient that is experi­encing pain.

Pain Management is the interd­isc­ipl­inary approach to treatment, blending tools, techniques and principles taken from a variety of the healing arts to reduce the pain and suffering

Pain Measur­ement Scale


acute pain (uh-kewt pane) a feeling of physical distress or discomfort that is protec­tive, has an identi­fiable cause, is of short duration (usually resolving with healing), and involves little tissue damage
addi­ction (uh-di­k-shun) referring to drug addiction: a dependence phenomenon charac­terized by impaired control over drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm, and craving
adjuvant analge­sia (aj-jo­o-vent an-uhl­-je­e-z­ee-uh) a drug primarily used to treat something other than pain but also enhances pain relief.
alte­rnative therap­ies (all-t­ur-­nuh-tiv ther-u­h-peez) unconv­ent­ional treatment approaches used instead of conven­tional medical care
anal­gesia (an-uh­l-j­ee-­zee-uh) absence of sensit­ivity to pain
anal­gesic (an-uh­l-j­ee-zik) substance used as a pain reliever; a drug that acts to reduce pain, including over-t­he-­counter drugs such as aspirin as well as those available by prescr­iption only
anal­gesic ceiling (an-uh­l-j­ee-zik seel-ing) the dose of a particular drug beyond which additional amounts of the same drug do not increase the analgesic effect
brea­kth­rough pain (brake­-thru pane) a flaring of moderate to severe pain despite therap­eutic doses of analgesics
chronic pain­(cr­on-ik pane) a feeling of physical distress or discomfort that persists over a long period of time and does not always have an identi­fiable cause
comp­lim­entary therap­ies (com-p­lih­-me­n-t­uh-ree ther-u­h-peez) unconv­ent­ional treatment approaches used in addition to or to enhance conven­tional medical care
derm­atome (dur-m­uh-­tome) area of skin supplied with afferent nerve fibers from a single posterior spinal root
effi­cacy (ef-ik­-uh­-see) the ability of a drug to achieve its desired effect
epidural anesth­esia (ep-ih­-dur-il an-es-­the­e-juh) medication injected via a catheter into the space between the dura mater and the lining of the spinal canal to create a regional nerve block; also called spinal anesthesia
noci­cep­tor (noe-s­ih-­sep­-tur) a peripheral sensory receptor for pain, stimulated by various types of tissue injury
narc­otic (nar-k­ah-tik) an outdated umbrella term that has been used to refer to opioids, controlled substa­nces, illicit drugs, central nervous system depres­sants, strong analge­sics, and drugs capable of causing physical depend­ence; opioid is the preferred term for the family of potent pharma­cologic analgesics commonly referred to as narcotics
neur­opathic pain (nur-o­h-p­ath-ik pane) a type of pain usually felt as burning or tingling and resulting from direct stimul­ation of nerve tissue of the peripheral or central nervous system
nons­ter­oidal anti-i­nfl­amm­atory drug (NSAID) (non-s­tih­-ro­y-dil an-tee­-in­-fl­am-­ah-­tor-ee drug [en sed]) any of a group of drugs that reduce pain, fever, and swelling (infla­mma­tion), including aspirin
opioid (oh-pe­e-oyd) one of a group of analgesics that act on higher centers of the brain and spinal cord to modify percep­tions of moderate to severe pain
pain scale (pane skale)­ass­essment tool used to rate the severity of pain
pain thresh­old (pane thresh­-hold) the point at which a person feels pain
pain tolera­nce (pane tol-ih­-rinse) the level of pain a person is willing to endure
pare­sth­esia (par-e­ss-­the­e-zhuh) an abnormal burning, prickling, tingling, or numbing sensation or hypers­ens­itivity most often felt in the extrem­ities and typically associated with neurop­athic pain
pati­ent­-co­ntr­olled analgesia (PCA) (pay-shint kon-trold an-uhl­-je­e-z­ee-uh [pee see ay]) a drug delivery system that uses a comput­erized pump with a button the patient can press to deliver a dose of an analgesic through an intrav­enous catheter
physical depend­ence (fiz-i­h-kul dee-pe­n-d­ense) an adaptive state charac­terized by a drug class-­spe­cific withdrawal syndrome induced with abrupt cessation, rapid dose reduction, or admini­str­ation of an antagonist
plac­ebo (plu-s­ee-bow) a pharma­col­ogi­cally inert substance, such as a sugar pill or an injection of sterile water, given with the implic­ation of effective treatment
prog­ressive muscle relaxa­tion (pro-g­res-siv ree-la­ks-­ay-­shin) a system­atic, stepwise approach to releasing tension in major muscle groups
somatic pain (sow-m­at-ik pane) generally well-l­oca­lized pain that results from activation of peripheral pain receptors without injury to the peripheral nerve or central nervous system, such as muscul­osk­eletal pain
spinal anesth­esia (spy-nil an-es-­the­e-juh) medication injected via a catheter into the space between the dura mater and the lining of the spinal canal to create a regional nerve block; also called epidural anesthesia
titr­ation (tie-t­ray­-sh­un)the process of gradually adjusting the dose of a medication until the desired effect is achieved
tole­rance (tol-e­r-inse) an adaptive state charac­terized by a decreasing response to repeated constant doses of a drug or the need for increasing doses to maintain a constant response
tran­smi­ssion (tranz­-mi­sh-un) spreading of the pain “message” across the various nerve fibers linking the pain impulse to the brain
visceral pain (vis-ir-il pane) pain that results from activating the pain receptors of organs in the thoracic, pelvic, or abdominal cavities and is felt as a genera­lized aching or cramping sensation sometimes referred to the surface of the body
visual analog scale (vih-z­joo-il an-uh-log skale) a straight line with the left end of the line repres­enting no pain and the right end of the line repres­enting the worst pain, with patients marking the place on the line where they think their pain falls
Wong­-Baker FACES scale (wong bay-kur fay-sez skale) a pain assessment tool that asks patients (often children) to select one of several faces indicating expres­sions that convey a range from no pain through the worst pain

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