A new definition of pain: update and implications for physical therapy practice and rehabilitation science

Review written by Dr Sandy Hilton info

Key Points

  1. The first International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) definition of pain was published in 1979 and was updated in 2020.
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Pain remains a global problem which is made worse by inconsistency and disagreement around definitions of the types of pain and their origins. This inconsistency affects clinical practice, funding of care, research, and funding of research.

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) has updated the definition of pain in order to bring consistency with the current understanding of pain (1). The original definition was published in 1979. This new definition will be updated as part of the design. While there is certainly robust ongoing discussion on the final wording, that debate is a healthy part of an inclusive process (2).

The authors of this paper provided a summary of the process and the usefulness of the IASP definition of pain in research, clinical education, and the implications for clinical practice.

The original definition of pain was published in 1979.
We are obligated to upskill ourselves and our clinics in order to meet the criteria of this new definition.


The IASP established a 14-member task force encompassing different countries, disciplines, and both clinical scientists and basic scientists who worked from 2018-2020 on the proposed changes that were then unanimously approved by the IASP council in 2020.

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