What Is Nociceptive Pain?

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on February 28, 2024
3 min read

Doctors define nociceptive pain as the discomfort you feel in response to damage to your tissues. Most pain you experience is nociceptive pain, and it commonly affects your muscles, joints, and bones. 

Your nerve endings have receptors called nociceptors, which are found in your skin, joints, muscles, and organs. When these receptors sense something can harm your body, they send chemical and electrical signals to your brain. Your brain processes the information and alerts your body to the presence of discomfort.

Your nerve endings are separated into two types of fibers: A-delta fibers and C-delta fibers. A delta fibers send signals quickly to your brain to let you know immediately about pain. C delta fibers send slower signals and show the intensity of pain.

Your nociceptors have three different mechanisms for sensing pain, including:

Mechanical receptors. These sense physical force, pressure, stretching, and damage to your skin, bones, connective tissue, and muscles. 

Thermal receptors. These types sense extreme hot or cold temperatures

Chemical receptors. These receptors sense chemicals in your body like lactic acid, which can activate pain pathways.  

Some receptors respond to all of these and are called polymodal receptors. Thermomechanical pain activation, for example, occurs when something is both hot and putting pressure on your body.

Neuropathic pain is another type of pain. Whereas nociceptive pain happens in response to tissue damage or stimuli, neuropathic pain occurs when a nerve or group of nerves is damaged. 

Injuries can cause inflammation, irritation, or damage to your nerves, which leads to pain. Demyelinating diseases that break down the myelin sheath that covers your nerves can also cause pain. Diseases that can cause nerve damage and pain include:

Sometimes, your nerves become compressed or damaged, which can cause radiating pain. This commonly happens in cases of:

  • Sciatica, where pain radiates from your lower back along your sciatic nerve
  • Herniated disc, where a spongy disc between your spinal bones bulges outward
  • Cervical radiculopathy, a pinched nerve in your neck that causes pain in your arm or shoulder
  • Back pain after surgery

Neuropathic pain also feels differently than nociceptive pain. It’s often described as:

Injury is the most common cause of nociceptive pain, but it can also be caused by some diseases. This can include:

Damage or blockage in your internal organs and soft tissues can also lead to nociceptive pain. These can have lots of different causes, like a tumor, a kidney stone, ulcers, and many other things. Cancer pain is also usually nociceptive, as the cells invade your tissues, bones, or organs. 

Nociceptive pain is usually described as:

It can range from mild discomfort to unrelenting, severe pain, which can depend on the injury and the C delta fibers. It can come and go, or it can be constant. Sometimes, different movements like coughing or laughing can make it worse. 

Pain is also classified as acute or chronic, but nociceptive pain is usually acute. Acute pain lasts for a short amount of time and goes away once your injury is healed. 

Pain is a symptom of a problem, so the best way to treat nociceptive pain is to treat the underlying cause. Your doctor can treat a wound or injury, and the pain will go away once it has healed. That can take time, though, so nociceptive pain is treated with pain relievers and other therapies. 

These can include:

Since pain is discomfort, it can be hard to cope with it. Severe and unrelenting pain can be disabling, can interfere with your life, and is usually a sign that something is wrong.

While prescription pain medications can help your pain, they are addictive and can lead to other serious health problems. If you’re experiencing severe pain or pain that doesn’t get better, talk to your doctor.