IASP Announces Revised Definition of Pain

Jul 16, 2020

For the first time since 1979, IASP introduced a revised definition of pain, the result of a two-year process that the association hopes will lead to revised ways of assessing pain.

“IASP and the Task Force that wrote the revised definition and notes did so to better convey the nuances and the complexity of pain and hoped that it would lead to improved assessment and management of those with pain,” said Srinivasa N. Raja, MD, Chair of the IASP Task Force and Director of Pain Research, Professor of Anesthesiology & Critical Care Medicine, Professor of Neurology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The definition is: “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage,” and is expanded upon by the addition of six key Notes and the etymology of the word pain for further valuable context.

  • Pain is always a personal experience that is influenced to varying degrees by biological, psychological, and social factors.
  • Pain and nociception are different phenomena. Pain cannot be inferred solely from activity in sensory neurons.
  • Through their life experiences, individuals learn the concept of pain.
  • A person’s report of an experience as pain should be respected.
  • Although pain usually serves an adaptive role, it may have adverse effects on function and social and psychological well-being.
  • Verbal description is only one of several behaviors to express pain; inability to communicate does not negate the possibility that a human or a nonhuman animal experiences pain.

A multi-national, multidisciplinary Task Force developed the revised defintion with input from all potential stakeholders, including persons in pain and their caregivers.

The revised definition was introduced in this article in the journal PAIN and a via a press release. An infographic also illustrates the changes.