Determining the quality of pain helps to deduce whether one's pain is superficial or deep. Questions should be asked about the specific characteristics of the pain, whether it is sharp, dull, or burning in nature. Superficial lesions will likely be sharp, burning, and well localized, whereas pain caused by deep somatic or visceral disease may be dull, diffuse, and poorly localizable. To better understand the severity behind a patient's pain, descriptive scales are effective.

Various patterns also help distinguish different pain states. For example, tic douloureux will often present as a brief flash, while inflammatory pain or migraines will demonstrate a rhythmic nature. Unfortunately, the quality of many patients' pain description varies, blurring the boundaries between whether the pain is due to a somatic, visceral, or neuropathic process.

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