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Understanding Chronic Pain

Chronic means ongoing. Pain is called chronic when it lasts over a long period of time. It usually starts at about 3 to 6 months. Pain can be constant, and it can increase, even without more injury. Sometimes this can be in response to stress. Chronic pain may be due to an injury that didn’t heal right, or because nerve signals are disrupted. It may be due to problems with the body’s pain-control system or nervous system. This can lead to a chronic pain syndrome. This happens when pain is still there without a specific reason. That can be very frustrating. Read below to learn more.

Outline of person with arm raised showing pain cycle. The source of pain is ongoing or is not in a specific location. Pain signals move through the nerves and up the spinal cord. The brain reads the signals, but the body can't protect itself. The brain can't produce enough endorphins to control pain. Pain may persist and be harder to relieve.

Sources of chronic pain

Chronic pain may be from an injury that did not heal right or a disruption of the nervous system. This means the cause of pain is not able to be cured. The cause may be an untreated injury or health problem. Examples of these are arthritis and back injury. Other common causes are nervous system damage (neuropathic pain) and headaches. With this type of pain, an approach that focuses on the whole system of the body, rather than one specific cause, is most effective for managing it. Treatment from several different types of healthcare providers may be required.

Chronic pain syndrome

Sometimes no simple explanation can be found for the pain. This is called chronic pain syndrome. Pain signals continue after an injury has healed. In some cases, increased pain sensitivity makes even minor injuries very painful. The pain may occur because the brain can’t make enough endorphins. These are chemicals that shut down pain signals. These can be disrupted by nerves, outside influences, such as medicines or diet, and even internal influences, like stress or depression.

Chronic pain is more complicated than acute pain. The same things that help acute pain, or the underlying cause of it (the injury) do not work for chronic pain. It is helpful to look at everything that is going on to begin to treat chronic pain. For example, stress can make pain worse and pain is stressful. This can be a part of the cycle of pain. Activities are hard to do with pain, so less is done, which then makes life feel small and pain feel big. Often it feels like pain is in control of your life. It is important to look at how thoughts, feelings, behaviors, other people, diet, exercise, and spiritualty all play a role in chronic pain.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 6/1/2018
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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