Visceral and Somatic Pain: Understanding the Differences

Visceral and somatic pains are terms that are often used together, which has led many to believe that they’re the same thing. However, from a medical standpoint, and for those who are experiencing this particular brand of pain, these two issues are radically different. While they are both types of nociceptive pain - pain caused by tissue damage - somatic pain comes from a the deeper layers of skin tissue, and visceral pain originates on your body’s organs.


Visceral Pain

Though it’s estimated that almost half of the world’s population experiences visceral pain at one point or another in their lives, it’s much less common than somatic pain. This internal pain originates in the internal organs or blood vessels of the human body. Because these parts of the body are not as innervated as the surface, there’s a likelihood that the pain a person feels will be more vague and more difficult to pinpoint than other types of pain.

Some of the most common types of visceral pain include:

  • Prostate pain
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Endometriosis pain
  • Vulvodynia
  • Bladder pain
  • Somatic Pain

Because somatic pain is a type of musculoskeletal pain, occurring in the muscles, skeleton, and skin tissues, these aches are typically much easier to pinpoint and treat overall. This is because bones, muscles and other more surface-based tissues are more thoroughly enervated, meaning that aches are less vague and dull. This might result in “sharper” pains. Unfortunately, that also means these types of pain can be a bit more overwhelming at times. There are two subcategories of somatic pain; deep pain and superficial pain. Deep pain is usually embedded in joints, bones, muscles and tendons, while superficial pain lies in membranes, and receptors in the skin, which are closer to the surface of the body.

Like visceral pain, there are many different types of somatic pain. Some of the most common include:

  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic back pain (when not a result of nerve damage)
  • Tension headaches
  • Pelvic pain with roots in joint instability in the area

By taking a look at both visceral and somatic pain and noting the key differences, it’s easy to see that the pain experienced throughout these different types of pain is radically different for those who deal with them. Discovering which one you suffer from is a key step in getting the treatment you need in order to get your body back in order, so you can continue with your daily schedule without letting pain get in your way. Speaking to your doctor about your pain can help you reach a diagnosis sooner, and get you everything you need to get back on the road to recovery.