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Are you aware of the 2020 revised definition of pain?


The revised definition, ‘An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage’ was the result of a two-year process by a multidisciplinary, multinational task force, and is the first time the definition of pain has been revised since 1979. IASP announced the definition after it was unanimously accepted by the IASP Council earlier in 2020.1 You can read the official press release here.


The task force also added six key notes for context.

  • Pain is always a personal experience that is influenced to varying degrees by biological, psychological and social factors.
  • Pain and nociception are different phenomena; pain cannot be inferred solely from activity in sensory neurons.
  • Through their life experiences, individuals learn the concept of pain.
  • A person’s report of an experience as pain should be respected.
  • Although pain usually serves an adaptive role, it may have adverse effects on function and social and psychological well-being.
  • Verbal description is only one of several behaviours to express pain; inability to communicate does not negate the possibility that a human or a non-human animal experiences pain.


The old IASP definition of pain, ‘An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage’ was recommended nearly 40 years ago, and while the changes in the revised definition and accompanying notes might seem minor, they are important to the wider context of pain management and support the multiple factors that are known to influence pain: biological, psychological and social. 


You can read more about the importance of these factors in the assessment of pain on the CHANGE PAIN webpage, Pain Basics: Comprehensive assessment.


You can read about the process the Task Force undertook to get to the revised pain definition in PAIN.

2020 revised definition of pain