Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario

Pain Defined

  • Pain is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.
  • This definition recognizes both the physiologic and affective nature of the pain experience. Pain can be classified by these types:
    • a) Nociceptive pain, which is considered a warning signal that results from actual or threatened damage to non-neural tissue resulting in the activation of nociceptors in a normal functioning nervous system; or
    • b) Neuropathic pain, which is a clinical description of pain thought to be caused by damage from a lesion or disease of the somatosensory nervous system that is confirmed by diagnostic investigations.
  • Pain categories can be based on the location of lesion (somatic, visceral), diagnosis (headache) or duration (acute, persistent).
  • A person may experience both nociceptive (such as with surgery), and neuropathic pain (e.g., diabetic neuropathy) at the same time.
  • The RNAO expert panel on Assessment and Management of Pain developed these guiding principles for this edition of the guideline:

Any person has the right to expect:

  • Their pain to be acknowledged and respected.
  • The best possible personalized evidence-based pain assessment and management including relevant bio-psychosocial components.
  • Ongoing information and education about the assessment and management of pain.
  • Involvement as an active participant in their own care in collaboration with the interprofessional team.
  • Communication and documentation among interprofessional team members involved in their care to monitor and manage their pain.
Clinical Management
Assessment and Management of Pain - 3rd Edition
Background Information