Chronic Pain

Chronic pain lasts longer than three months and may be caused by chronic illness, persist after an illness or injury has healed, or an unknown cause.

Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than three months. In many cases, it lasts for years. There are a variety of causes of chronic pain.

In some cases, chronic pain is caused by a chronic medical illness, such as arthritis or cancer. In other cases, the pain was initially caused by an injury or medical condition; however, while the event that caused the pain has healed, the pain persists. Doctors aren’t entirely sure why this happens. It could be related to damage to the nerves, changes in brain chemicals, or other factors.

In some chronic pain cases, the pain is unrelated to any known injury or illness, either current or in the past. This type of chronic pain is usually frustrating for both the patient and the doctor, because there is no clear explanation for why the patient is in pain.

Although doctors still aren’t sure what causes chronic pain, they know that certain people are more likely to have chronic pain than others. Risk factors for chronic pain include:

• Older age
• Chronic health problems
• Past health problems
• Poor general health
• Stress

While people of any age can have chronic pain, it becomes more likely as you get older. This is partially because older people are more likely to have other risk factors, such as chronic or past health problems.

Several different chronic health problems can lead to chronic pain. In some cases, pain is one of the primary symptoms, such as in fibromyalgia. Other conditions, such as cancer and arthritis, can also cause chronic pain.

Having had a painful health problem in the past is another risk factor for chronic pain, even after the original injury or condition has healed. For instance, patients who have had surgery of any kind are at risk for developing chronic pain that lasts past the point where the surgical wounds have healed.

Those who are in poor general health are at greater risk for developing chronic pain. For example, people who don’t exercise or who have a poor diet may suffer from a variety of health problems and are more likely to develop chronic pain. The use of alcohol and other drugs also makes it more likely that someone will develop chronic pain. Unfortunately, the regular use of pain-relieving medications may itself lead to chronic pain, even after the condition that originally caused the patient to use the medications has healed. This is known as “rebound pain.”

There are also psychological conditions that make a person more likely to develop chronic pain, because of the strength of the mind-body connection. Those who are experiencing a significant amount of stress, such as a death in the family, divorce, or loss of a job, are more likely to develop chronic pain. Patients with depression or anxiety disorders may also develop chronic pain. Physical symptoms resulting from psychological causes are sometimes known as “somatization.” It’s important to recognize that when someone has chronic pain caused by a psychological condition, that doesn’t mean that the patient is “making it up.” Chronic pain is very real, regardless of the circumstances of its origin.

References

National Institutes of Health. “Chronic Pain: Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment.” NIH Medline Plus 6, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 5-6. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/spring11/articles/spring11pg5-6.html

National Cancer Institute. “Pain.” (2015) http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/pain

American Academy of Pain Medicine. “AAPM Facts and Figures on Pain.” http://www.painmed.org/patientcenter/facts_on_pain.aspx

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