What is chronic pain?
Chronic pain (long-lasting pain) can exist after an injury or disease has healed, and serves no useful purpose. Instead, the pain is caused by the body incorrectly signaling to the brain that there is pain, when in reality there is no longer any injury present. Chronic pain often involves elements of both nociceptive and neuropathic pain. One example of this is low back pain, which often has both nociceptive and neuropathic components.
Chronic pain is a long term condition/disease; however, like other chronic conditions it can be managed and controlled with the right treatment, e.g. medication and lifestyle changes. Examples of diagnosed conditions in which chronic pain can develop are arthritis and diabetes.
What causes chronic pain?
Chronic pain can be caused by many different factors. Conditions that accompany normal aging often affect bones and joints in ways that cause chronic pain (for example, osteoarthritis). Other common causes are nerve damage (which causes neuropathic pain) and injuries that fail to heal properly. To make things more complicated, some kinds of chronic pain have numerous causes. Low back pain, for example, may be caused by one or more of these factors: injury, poor posture, improper lifting and carrying of heavy objects, being overweight, a genetic precondition such as curvature of the spine, sleeping on a poor mattress, or ordinary aging of the spine.
Many chronic diseases or infections can also cause chronic pain. These include rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, shingles, and AIDS; diabetes, shingles, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and AIDS can cause neuropathic pain. In many cases, however, the source of chronic pain can be a very complex and even mysterious issue. Although it may begin with an injury or illness, chronic pain can develop a psychological dimension even after the physical problem has healed.
What are the symptoms of chronic pain?
The symptoms of chronic pain can also include fatigue, sleeplessness, and the feeling of discomfort, soreness, tightness, or stiffness. Chronic pain patients may use descriptive terms such as shooting pain, burning pain, aching pain, or electrical shocks.
How is chronic pain diagnosed?
Chronic pain is often difficult to diagnose. This can lead to patients being insufficiently treated on a ‘trial and error’ basis that may persist over many months or even years. A correct and early diagnosis is crucial to find the right treatment and relieving chronic pain symptoms. It is therefore important that patients describe their symptoms in as much detail as possible to their doctor to facilitate identification of the actual cause of the chronic pain condition. As part of this process, the doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask about the symptoms and their medical history. Your doctor might also ask you for the pain intensity (pain scale), duration, frequency and other observations in your daily life.
What can patients do?
There are several treatment options available for chronic pain. It is important to get active. If you have pain that has lasted for more than a month, please fill out the ‘my pain questionnaire’ and see your doctor. The questionnaire is a very useful tool to improve the communication between patients and doctors, as it supports the doctor in making an accurate diagnosis of the cause of chronic pain. It will be most useful for you to accurately describe your pain, where it occurs on your body and if it is triggered by anything in particular. In preparation for a doctor’s appointment, patients should thoughtfully complete the ‘my pain questionnaire’, print out the results, and discuss them with their doctor. You can also read more about possible treatment options here.