Understanding Types of Pain

Ouch! You’ve strained a muscle in your leg by overstretching it in yoga class. It’s uncomfortable for a few days, but after some rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE), you’re back on your cheery yoga mat.

4 min read
Illustration of a man bent over with back pain and a woman holding her head in discomfort.

A month later, you feel a familiar ache in your lower back. This pain is different from the leg pain: it’s been coming and going for 5 years. You notice that it tends to flare up when you’re stressed and pulling late nights at work.

While both of these scenarios involve pain, the pain is different for each of them. Why is this? There are actually different types of pain. The type of pain can be determined by looking at 2  categories:

  1. Cause: Whether or not the pain has a clear cause
  2. Duration: How long the pain has lasted

Let’s take a quick look at category #1 first. Some pain is specific—that is, it has a known cause, such as an injury (for example, overstretching in yoga class).

Other pain is nonspecific—in other words, it doesn’t have a known cause. (An example of this is the back pain that’s been lingering for 5 years.)

Chronic pain usually doesn’t develop from physical reasons alone

Now, let’s look closer at category #2. In addition to the cause, pain is also classified by how long you’ve been experiencing it:

  • Acute pain lasts less than 3 months
    • It resolves in a short timeframe, even if it’s intense
    • Usually, it’s caused by a minor physical reason (like overdoing it in yoga class)
  • Chronic pain lasts longer than 3 months (such as the persistent back pain)
    • It’s not always caused by a physical injury
    • When chronic pain is caused by an injury, it can continue even after the injury has fully healed
  • Subacute pain falls between acute and chronic pain. It lasts anywhere from 1 to 3 months.
    • Like acute pain, it resolves relatively quickly and is usually attributable to a minor physical reason
Classification of pain Duration
Acute pain + subacute pain < 3 months
Chronic pain > 3 months

Now that you understand the ways that pain is categorized, you might be wondering, “How can chronic pain that has no clear cause even happen?” Nonspecific chronic pain usually develops in part due to physical factors like:

  • Muscle imbalance (some muscles are overused while others are underused)
  • Lack of activity
  • Holding certain body positions too long (like sitting at your desk all day without taking movement breaks)
  • Reduced everyday movement ability

Plus, there’s this point, which might surprise you: chronic pain usually doesn’t develop from physical factors alone. Psychological and social factors (like life stress and relationships) can also play a role. In fact, these factors may also help to prolong chronic pain. 

How Kaia can help

The Kaia Health app is designed to help with nonspecific acute, subacute, and chronic pain. Unsure whether or not your pain is nonspecific? Talk to your doctor about any possible injuries or illnesses that might be causing your pain before using the app.

Once your doctor has taken your medical history, given you a physical exam, and ruled out illness or injury as pain causes, it may no longer be helpful to continue searching for a cause. Why? The human body is complex and various factors are involved in pain. Therefore, it might not always be possible to pinpoint the exact cause of chronic pain.

Consider this, too: looking for a cause for the pain (particularly when it’s chronic) doesn’t always lead to more effective treatments. Rather, the often unsuccessful process of finding a cause can be stressful, which can actually make pain feel worse.

This is where Kaia’s approach to pain comes in, as it addresses the different factors that contribute to pain (physical, psychological, and social). Whether your pain is acute, subacute, or chronic, Kaia provides a solid pain-management program, including physical exercises, learning, and relaxation practices.

With Kaia, you’ll learn how to:

  • Be your own pain pro: Get our best pain tips and tools, including how to deal with (and prevent) pain flare-ups
  • Use movement as medicine: Stretch and strengthen your body with your personalized Kaia exercises. They’ll help to increase your mobility and flexibility, as well as balance your muscles (to prevent over- and underuse), which is crucial for pain.
  • Use the mind-body connection to your advantage: Relax your mind and body, which can halt the vicious stress/pain cycle


The first step of managing pain is understanding its type. That means looking at whether or not the pain has a clear cause, as well as its duration. Acute and subacute pain last less than 3 months. On the other hand, chronic pain lasts longer than 3 months.

While acute and subacute pain are usually due to minor physical reasons, chronic pain tends to be a result of physical, psychological, and social factors. This is why you’ll find physical exercises, learning, and relaxation practices in the Kaia Health app to address all 3 factors. You’ll get a comprehensive pain program that empowers you to regain freedom and energy for living your best life!

Further Reading