Oesophageal pain is one of the most common reasons for physician consultation and/or seeking medication. It is most often caused by acid reflux from the stomach, but can also result from contractions of the oesophageal muscle. Different forms of pain are evoked by oesophageal acid, including heartburn and non-cardiac chest pain, but the basic mechanisms and pathways by which these are generated remain to be elucidated. Both vagal and spinal afferent pathways are implicated by basic research. The sensitivity of afferent fibres within these pathways may become altered after acid-induced inflammation and damage, but the severity of symptoms in humans does not necessarily correlate with the degree of inflammation. Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is caused by transient relaxations of the lower oesophageal sphincter, which are triggered by activation of gastric vagal mechanoreceptors. Vagal afferents are therefore an emerging therapeutic target for GORD. Pain in the absence of excess acid reflux remains a major challenge for treatment.