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Why can pain be helpful?

In its simplest form, pain is the physical sensation that results from an injury or a situation that could potentially result in injury. It helps alert people to the fact that something is wrong with their body and needs attention, spurring action to minimize injury. For example, pain makes you recoil when you touch a burning hot stove or lets you know you've cut your finger while slicing tomatoes so you'll tend to the wound.

In severe cases, extreme pain warns you of life-threatening danger so you'll seek emergency medical help -- as in the case of the squeezing pain of a heart attack.

But sometimes the reasons for pain are unclear. It is a complex physiological process that can occur when the body is not in danger, as a result of mixed body signals or other physiological anomalies. For example, a person might experience severe pain from a migraine headache, even though there is no immediate threat to the body. Or a person might experience phantom pain in an amputated limb, although the limb is not there.

Whether minor or severe, pain falls under one of two categories. Acute pain is short-term pain that results from an immediate injury or condition and resolves after healing or treatment. Chronic pain is long-term pain that results from a persistent illness or nerve irritation and remains after healing has occurred.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.