A brief overview

We all experience occasional aches and pains. In truth, sudden pain is a sign of injury that the nervous system is alerting you to. From the injured area, pain signals travel up your spinal cord and into your brain.

Your pain will usually lessen as the injury heals. Chronic pain, however, is different from typical pain. Chronic pain occurs when your body continues to send pain signals to your brain even after you heal from an injury. It can last for several weeks to many years. In addition to limiting mobility, chronic pain can reduce your flexibility, strength, and endurance. These factors can make it more difficult for you to cope with day-to-day tasks.

Pain that lasts more than 12 weeks is considered chronic pain. There may be a burning or aching sensation in the affected areas due to sharp or dull pain. The pain may be steady or intermittent, coming and going without apparent cause. A person can suffer from chronic pain in nearly any part of their body. The symptoms can differ depending on the location of the pain.

Here are some of the most common types of chronic pain:

  • migraines
  • postoperative pain
  • post-traumatic pain
  • pain in the lower back
  • cancer pain
  • pain from arthritis
  • nerve pain (pain caused by nerve damage)
  • Psychogenic pain (pain caused by reasons other than disease, injury, or nerve damage)

More than 1.5 billion people around the world suffer from chronic pain, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine. It is the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States, affecting about 100 million people.

How does chronic pain develop?

The origin of chronic pain is usually an initial injury such as a sprained back or pulled muscle. Chronic pain is believed to develop when nerves are damaged. Damaged nerves cause pain to be more intense and prolonged. Treating the underlying injury may not resolve chronic pain in these cases.

However, chronic pain can occur without a prior injury in some cases. We aren’t exactly sure why chronic pain without an injury happens. It may sometimes be caused by an underlying health condition, such as:

  • chronic fatigue syndrome: a state of intense, sustained fatigue accompanied by pain
  • endometriosis: a painful condition in which the uterine lining grows outside the uterus
  • fibromyalgia: chronic pain of the bones or muscles
  • inflammatory bowel disease: characterised by chronic, painful inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract
  • interstitial cystitis: characterised by pain and pressure in the bladder
  • temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ): painful locking, clicking, or popping of the jaw joint
  • vulvodynia: pain in the vulva that occurs without obvious cause

Who is at risk for chronic pain?

Chronic pain can affect people of any age, but it is most common among older adults. In addition to age, chronic pain can be caused by:

  • An injury
  • Having surgery
  • Being female
  • Having obesity or being overweight

Chronic pain – how is it treated?

Pain reduction and increased mobility are the primary goals of treatment. By doing this you will be able to resume your daily activities without discomfort.

Chronic pain can vary in severity and frequency among individuals. As a result, doctors create pain management plans tailored to each individual. An effective pain management plan depends on your symptoms and any underlying health conditions. Treatment for chronic pain may include medical treatments, lifestyle changes, or a combination of these methods.

Medicines for chronic pain

There are a number of medications available that can help treat chronic pain. A few examples include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin (Bufferin) or ibuprofen (Advil).
  • Opioids, such as morphine (MS Contin), codeine, and hydrocodone (Tussigon)
  • The use of adjuvant analgesics, like antidepressants and anticonvulsants

Medical procedures for chronic pain

Chronic pain can also be relieved by certain medical procedures. Examples include:

  • Electrical stimulation is a method of reducing pain by sending mild electric shocks into the muscles
  • By injecting nerve blocks, you stop your nerves from sending pain signals to your brain
  • Acupuncture consists of lightly pricking the skin with needles to relieve pain
  • Having surgery to correct an injury that may have healed improperly and that might be contributing to your pain

Lifestyle remedies for chronic pain

A variety of lifestyle remedies are also available to ease chronic pain. Some examples are:

  • physical therapy
  • tai chi
  • yoga
  • music and art therapy
  • pet therapy
  • psychotherapy
  • massage
  • meditating

Coping with chronic pain

Chronic pain cannot be cured, but it can be managed effectively. Staying on top of your pain management plan will help relieve symptoms.

The link between physical pain and emotional pain means chronic pain can increase your level of stress. By building your emotional skills, you will be better able to cope with the stress associated with your condition. The following methods can help you manage stress:

  • Exercise regularly and eat well to keep your body healthy and reduce your stress levels.
  • By taking part in activities you enjoy and socialising with friends, you can boost your mood and decrease stress. If you suffer from chronic pain, performing certain tasks may be difficult. Isolating yourself, however, can make your condition seem worse and make you more sensitive to pain.
  • During difficult times, friends, family, and support groups can lend a helping hand and offer comfort to you. If you need support with daily tasks or if you simply need an emotional boost, a close friend or loved one can help.