Features of acute pain were examined in patients at an emergency clinic. Patients who had severe, life-threatening injuries or who were agitated, drunk, or 'in shock' were excluded from the study. Of 138 patients who were alert, rational and coherent, 51 (37%) stated that they did not feel pain at the time of injury. The majority of these patients reported onset of pain within an hour of injury, although the delays were as long as 9 h or more in some patients. The predominant emotions of the patients were embarrassment at appearing careless or worry about loss of wages. None expressed any pleasure or indicated any prospect of gain as a result of the injury. The occurrence of delays in pain onset was related to the nature of the injury. Of 46 patients whose injuries were limited to skin (lacerations, cuts, abrasions, burns), 53% had a pain-free period. Of 86 patients with deep-tissue injuries (fractures, sprains, bruises, amputation of a finger, stabs and crushes), only 28% had a pain-free period. The McGill Pain Questionnaire was administered to patients who felt pain immediately after injury or after a delay, and revealed a normal distribution of sensory scores but very low affective scores compared to patients with chronic pain. The results indicate that the relationship between injury and pain is highly variable and complex.