Understanding Chronic Pain

Chronic means ongoing. Pain is called “chronic” when it lasts over a long period of time, at least 3 months. This includes pain that you feel regularly, even if it comes and goes. Chronic pain may be due to continuing injury or disease, or it may be due to problems with the body’s pain-control system. An example of this is fibromyalgia. 

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.

Chronic stimulus

Chronic pain may be from chronic stimulation of the pain system. This means the cause of pain is not cured. The cause may be an untreated injury or health problem. Examples of these are joint degeneration (arthritis) and back injury. Other common causes are nervous system damage (neuropathic pain) and headaches. With this type of pain, both the pain and the condition that is causing it must be treated.

Chronic pain syndrome

Sometimes, no cause can be found for a person's chronic pain. Some people with chronic pain develop chronic pain syndrome. This includes anxiety and depression, anger, and changed lifestyle in addition to the pain. It is important to seek treatment for these pain-associated problems even when the chronic pain itself can't be cured.