Definition of pain revised for first time in 40+ years

For the first time in over 40 years, the International Association for the Study of Pain has revised the definition of pain in the hope it will lead to new ways of assessing pain.

The new definition of pain is: "An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage." There are also six additional notes that expand on the definition, including that pain is always a personal experience and that a person's report of an experience as pain should be respected.

The association developed the new definition in a yearslong process that included the creation of a multinational, multidisciplinary task force that received input from several stakeholders, including people suffering from pain and their caregivers, said Srinivasa Raja, MD, chair of the task force and director of pain research at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

The previous definition of pain read: "An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage."

It was developed in 1979. But the wording was interpreted as excluding infants, elderly people and those who could not verbally articulate their pain, said Jeffrey Mogil, PhD, director of the Alan Edwards Center for Research on Pain at McGill University in Canada and a member of the task force.

The revised definition was published in the association's official journal, Pain.

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