Pain may be the most common reason patients seek treatment from physicians. When persistent and unrelieved, pain can frustrate both the person suffering with this condition and the physician trying to alleviate it. Relief from such discomfort may be particularly difficult to achieve and fraught with misconceptions. Treatment usually requires trials of physical, pharmacologic, and surgical interventions to achieve resolution. In cases that remain insoluble, patients must accept partial relief and seek adaptive strategies. Sources of persistent pain may be nociceptive or neuropathic. Both utilize the same nerve pathways for transmission, but significant physiologic differences exist in mechanisms through which these painful stimuli are biologically processed and resolved. Nociceptive pain resulting from a known or obvious source (eg, trauma, cancer metastasis, ischemia, arthritis) is often easy to identify. Neuropathic pain, however, may occur in the absence of an identifiable precipitating cause. Physicians must remain alert to differences in presentation and course of neuropathic pain syndromes, some of which may be subtle or unusual.
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