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Reconsidering the International Association for the Study of Pain definition of pain

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 03:22 authored by Cohen, M, Quintner, J, Simon Van RysewykSimon Van Rysewyk

Introduction: The definition of pain promulgated by the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) is widely accepted as a pragmatic characterisation of that human experience. Although the Notes that accompany it characterise pain as “always subjective,” the IASP definition itself fails to sufficiently integrate phenomenological aspects of pain.

Methods: This essay reviews the historical development of the IASP definition, and the commentaries and suggested modifications to it over almost 40 years. Common factors of pain experience identified in phenomenological studies are described, together with theoretical insights from philosophy and biology.

Results: A fuller understanding of the pain experience and of the clinical care of those experiencing pain is achievable through greater attention to the phenomenology of pain, the social “intersubjective space” in which pain occurs, and the limitations of language.

Conclusion: Based on these results, a revised definition of pain is offered: Pain is a mutually recognizable somatic experience that reflects a person’s apprehension of threat to their bodily or existential integrity.


Publication title

Pain Reports

Article number









School of Humanities


Wolters Kluwer Health

Place of publication


Rights statement

Copyright © 2018 The Author(s). Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of The International Association for the Study of Pain. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives International (CC BY-ND 4.0) License, ( which allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to the author.

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Human pain management

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