What is Chronic pain?

Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts at 12 weeks or more. The pain may feel dull or sharp, causing a burning or aching sensation in the affected areas. It may be intermittent or steady, coming and going without any apparent reason. Chronic pain can occur in nearly any part of your body and can feel different in the various affected areas.

Some of the most common types of chronic pain include:

  • headache
  • postsurgical pain
  • post-trauma pain
  • lower back pain
  • cancer pain
  • arthritis pain
  • neurogenic pain (pain caused by nerve damage)
  • psychogenic pain (pain that isn’t caused by injury, disease, or nerve damage)

According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, more than 1.5 billion people have chronic pain around the world. It’s the most common cause of 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 pulled or strained muscle. The nerve damage makes pain more intense and lasting longer. In these cases, treating the underlying injury may not resolve the pain.

In some cases people experience chronic pain without any prior injury. The exact causes of chronic pain without injury aren’t well known. The pain may sometimes result from an underlying health condition, such as:

  • chronic fatigue syndrome: characterized by extreme, prolonged tiredness that’s often accompanied by pain
  • endometriosis: a painful disorder that occurs when the uterine lining grows outside of the normal uterine cavity
  • fibromyalgia: widespread pain in the bones and muscles
  • inflammatory bowel disease: a group of conditions that causes painful, chronic inflammation in the digestive tract
  • interstitial cystitis: a chronic disorder marked by pain and bladder pressure
  • temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ): a condition that causes painful jaw clicking, popping, or locking.
 

How is chronic pain treated?

The main goal of treatment is to increase mobility and decrease pain. This helps patients return to their daily activities with less discomfort.

The severity, frequency and type of chronic pain can differ among individuals. Lifestyle remedies, medical treatments, or a combination of these methods may be used to treat your chronic pain.

Medications for chronic pain

Several medications are available that can help treat chronic pain. Here are a few examples:

  • over-the-counter pain relievers, including acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
  • opioid pain relievers, including morphine, codeine, and hydrocodone
  • adjuvant analgesics, such as antidepressants and anticonvulsants

Medical procedures for chronic pain

Certain medical procedures can provide relief from chronic pain. An example of a few are:

  • electrical stimulation
  • nerve blocks
  • acupuncture
  • surgery

Lifestyle remedies for chronic pain

Additionally, various lifestyle remedies can help ease chronic pain. Examples include:

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