The incidence of chronic pain is estimated to be 20-25% worldwide. Few patients with chronic pain obtain complete relief from the drugs that are currently available, and more than half report inadequate relief. Underlying the challenge of developing better drugs to manage chronic pain is incomplete understanding of the heterogeneity of mechanisms that contribute to the transition from acute tissue insult to chronic pain and to pain conditions for which the underlying pathology is not apparent. An intact central nervous system (CNS) is required for the conscious perception of pain, and changes in the CNS are clearly evident in chronic pain states. However, the blockage of nociceptive input into the CNS can effectively relieve or markedly attenuate discomfort and pain, revealing the importance of ongoing peripheral input to the maintenance of chronic pain. Accordingly, we focus here on nociceptors: their excitability, their heterogeneity and their role in initiating and maintaining pain.