Pain Types Somatic

When a person is in pain, most of the time he doesn’t care to know the type of pain from which he is suffering. He just wants relief. Proper treatment of pain, however, requires an understanding of the type of pain and the root cause of the pain. One type of pain that often affects people is somatic pain.

Somatic Pain Defined

Somatic pain refers to pain caused by injury or trauma. It occurs only in certain areas of the body. The skin, muscles, joints and bones can all be affected by somatic pain, as can the body’s connective tissue.

Somatic pain occurs when specialized nerve cells called pain receptors are activated, either on the body’s surface (the cutaneous tissue) or in the muscles and skeletal tissues (the deep tissues).

When pain receptors activate in the cutaneous level, the pain is referred to as surface somatic pain. If deep tissue pain receptors activate, the pain is referred to as deep somatic pain.

Causes of Somatic Pain

Trauma and injury are the primary causes of somatic pain. Somatic pain can be caused by simple traumas, including minor bumps and cuts, but it can also be caused by disease, including cancer, and serious injury.

Somatic pain may originate in tissue inflammation. Inflammation occurs in response to infection, trauma or tissue irritation. Acute inflammation resolves over time as the body heals, and somatic pain diminishes as inflammation lessens.

Chronic inflammation and accompanying somatic pain may indicate the presence of an autoimmune disorder or an inflammatory disease.

Somatic Pain Symptoms

Surface somatic pain and deep somatic pain present differently. Deep somatic pain tends to be localized (restricted to one area) and is often described as “dull” or “aching.”

Surface somatic pain is often described as “sharp.” People may also describe surface somatic pain as “burning” or “prickling.”

Somatic Referred Pain and Visceral Pain

Somatic referred pain is pain that radiates out from one area of tissue and is felt in another. One example of somatic referred pain is when a person experiencing lower back pain feels the pain down the back of his leg.

Sometimes somatic referred pain is actually a different type of deep tissue pain called visceral pain. Visceral pain affects the internal organs and their supporting tissue. Visceral pain receptors travel along the same nerve pathways as somatic pain receptors, so visceral pain may radiate to areas usually monitored by somatic pain receptors.

Diagnosing Somatic Pain

Somatic pain is diagnosed much as any other type of pain. If your doctor thinks you are suffering from somatic pain, he will take a symptom history and gather the following information:

  • activities that could have caused the pain (i.e., have you recently been involved in an accident or experienced any type of bodily trauma?)
  • factors that increase or decrease pain
  • how the pain affects daily life
  • other symptoms that you may be experiencing in addition to the pain
  • pain location
  • the severity of the pain, often ranked on a scale of one to 10
  • your description of the pain.

All of these factors will help your doctor determine the type of pain from which you are suffering as well as what is causing the pain.

Treatment Options for Somatic Pain

Treatment for somatic pain depends on the root cause of the pain. For instance, while a doctor might simply treat a minor cut that is causing somatic pain with an antibiotic ointment, major somatic pain may require prescription pain medication.

If you are suffering from mild somatic pain, your doctor might advise you to take aspirin and acetaminophen. Moderate to severe somatic pain is more likely to be treated with an opiate, such as morphine. However, as opiates have addictive properties, long-term use of opiates for somatic pain must be carefully controlled and monitored.

Somatic pain caused by inflammation may be treated either with NSAIDs (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) or with steroid-based anti-inflammatory medications. In all cases of somatic pain and somatic referred pain, treatment of the primary condition is essential for successful pain treatment.

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