What Is Somatic Pain?

One of Four Types of Pain

Somatic pain is the type of pain you feel in your skin, muscles, joints, and bones. It can feel like a gnawing, aching, or cramping. Some people describe somatic pain as "sharp."

You will experience somatic pain if you cut your skin, stretch a muscle too far, exercise for a long period of time, or fall down onto the ground and hurt yourself.

Man massaging his shoulder
 Tetra Images / Getty Images

Why You Experience Somatic Pain

Somatic pain is usually isolated to a particular part of the body and is often made worse with movement. It is nociceptive, which means it's caused by an injury, inflammation, or pressure.

Somatic pain and visceral pain are different. Visceral pain is also nociceptive, but it arises from internal organs. The nerves that detect somatic pain are located in the skin and deep tissues.

These specialized sensory nerves, called nociceptors, pick up painful sensations related to temperature, vibration, and swelling in the skin, joints, and muscles.

When nociceptors detect strong signals associated with tissue damage, they send impulses to the brain, which is how you feel or experience pain.

Types of Somatic Pain

There are two types of somatic pain: superficial and deep. They differ in terms of where in the body the pain originates.

Superficial Somatic Pain

Superficial pain arises from nociceptive receptors in the skin and mucous membranes.

It is the type of pain that happens with common everyday injuries—for example, if you cut your lip.

Superficial somatic pain is characterized as either:

  • Pricking
  • Sharp
  • Burning
  • Throbbing pain

Deep Somatic Pain

Deep somatic pain originates from structures deeper within your body, such as your joints, bones, tendons, and muscles. Like visceral pain, deep somatic pain is usually dull and aching.

Deep somatic pain can either be experienced locally or more generally depending on the degree of trauma.

For example, if you bump your knee, the pain that you experience is localized to your knee. However, if you break your kneecap, you likely experience pain throughout your entire leg.

Referred Somatic Pain

Sometimes somatic pain is felt in one part of the body, though it starts in another. Called referred somatic pain, this can happen when the source is in tissues that are deep inside the body. Because you are not used to experiencing pain there, the brain may misidentify its origin.


Somatic pain is treated in a variety of ways. It depends on the severity of the pain and its cause. For instance, light pain from a muscle cramp might be treated very differently than severe pain from a broken bone.

Most minor cases of somatic pain respond well to over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or NSAIDs like Aleve (naproxen) or Motrin (ibuprofen).

A big difference between Tylenol and NSAIDs is that Tylenol offers no anti-inflammatory effects. So, Tylenol won't help with associated swelling.

That being said, some people cannot take NSAIDs due to underlying health conditions like a history of gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney disease, or heart disease.

It is important to always consult your healthcare provider before taking any medication, even those available over the counter.

With deep somatic pain or musculoskeletal pain, muscle relaxants like Baclofen or Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine) may provide relief. Opioids, or medications like oxycodone and hydrocodone, are best reserved for severe pain that is not relieved with Tylenol or NSAIDs alone.

Please keep in mind that opioids carry a great risk of substance misuse and dependence. This is why opioids are typically prescribed for only short periods of time.

Depending on the pain, your healthcare provider may also recommend other therapies like a heating pad or cold pack on the painful area. Even activities like physical therapy, massage, or relaxation can help.

A Word From Verywell

The good news about somatic pain is that it usually fades once the underlying injury or insult heals. However, somatic pain that lasts longer than expected (more than three months) can become chronic pain, which requires a more rigorous treatment plan.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • Rosenquist RW, Vrooman BM. Chapter 47. Chronic Pain Management. In: Morgan & Mikhail's Clinical Anesthesiology. 5th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

By Erica Jacques
Erica Jacques, OT, is a board-certified occupational therapist at a level one trauma center.