Everyone experiences occasional aches and pains. In fact, sudden pain is an important nervous system reaction that helps alert you to potential injury. When an injury occurs, pain signals travel from the injured area to your spinal cord and to your brain.
The pain will generally become less severe as the injury heals. However, chronic pain is different from typical pain. Your body continues to send pain signals to your brain, even after the injury heals. This can last for several weeks or years. It can limit your mobility and reduce your flexibility, strength, and endurance. This can make daily tasks and activities difficult to get through.
Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts at least 12 weeks. The pain may feel sharp or dull, causing a burning or aching sensation in the affected areas. It can be constant or intermittent, coming and going for no apparent reason. It can occur almost anywhere on your body. Pain may feel different in different affected areas.
Some of the most common types of chronic pain include:
- postsurgical pain
- post-traumatic pain
- lower back pain
- cancer pain
- Arthritis pain
- Neurogenic pain (pain caused by nerve damage)
- psychogenic pain (pain that is not caused by disease, injury, or nerve damage)
According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, more than 1.5 billion people around the world have chronic pain. It is the most common cause of long-term disability in the United States, affecting about 100 million Americans.
What Causes Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is usually caused by an initial injury, such as a back sprain or a pulled muscle. It is believed to develop after nerves are damaged. Damage to the nerves makes the pain more intense and long-lasting. In these cases, treating the underlying injury may not resolve the chronic pain.
In some cases, however, people experience chronic pain without prior injury. The exact causes without injury are not well understood. Pain can sometimes be due to an underlying health condition, such as:
- chronic fatigue syndrome - characterized by prolonged and extreme tiredness that is often accompanied by pain
- endometriosis - a painful disorder that occurs when the uterine lining grows outside the uterus
- Fibromyalgia: widespread pain in the bones and muscles.
- Inflammatory bowel disease - a group of conditions that cause chronic, painful inflammation in the digestive tract.
- Interstitial cystitis: a chronic disorder characterized by pressure and pain in the bladder.
- Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction - A condition that causes a clicking, popping, or painful lock of the jaw.
- Vulvodynia: chronic pain in the vulva that occurs without obvious cause.
Who is at risk?
It can affect people of all ages, but it is more common in older adults. Besides age, other factors that can increase your risk of developing chronic pain include:
- having an injury
- have surgery
- to be a woman
- being overweight or obese
How is it treated?
The main goal of treatment is to reduce pain and increase mobility. This helps you return to your daily activities without discomfort.
The severity and frequency of chronic pain can differ between individuals. So doctors create pain management plans that are specific to each person. Your pain management plan will depend on your symptoms and any underlying health conditions. Medical treatments, lifestyle remedies, or a combination of these can be used.
Medical procedures for chronic pain
Certain medical procedures can also provide relief. An example of a few are:
- electrical stimulation, which reduces pain by sending mild electrical shocks to the muscles
- nerve block, which is an injection that stops nerves from sending pain signals to your brain
- acupuncture, which involves lightly pricking the skin with needles to relieve pain Surgery, which corrects injuries that may have healed improperly and may be contributing to the pain.
Lifestyle remedies for chronic pain.
Also, there are several lifestyle remedies that help relieve chronic pain. Examples include:
- physical therapy
- Tai Chi
- art and music therapy
- pet therapy
Treat chronic pain.
There is no cure for chronic pain, but the condition can be managed successfully. It is important to stick to your pain management plan to help relieve symptoms.
Physical pain is related to emotional pain, so chronic pain can increase your stress levels. Developing emotional skills can help you cope with any stress related to your condition. Here are some steps you can take to reduce stress:
Take good care of your body: Eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly can keep your body healthy and reduce feelings of stress.
Stay involved in your daily activities - You can improve your mood and decrease stress by participating in activities you enjoy and socializing with friends. Chronic pain can make certain tasks challenging. But isolating yourself can give you a more negative outlook on your condition and increase your sensitivity to pain.
Seek Support - Friends, family, and support groups can help and comfort you through difficult times. Whether you're struggling with daily tasks or just need an emotional boost, a close friend or loved one can provide the support you need.
For more information and resources, visit the American Chronic Pain Association website at theacpa.org.