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What Is Chronic Pain? - Definition & Management

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Some people suffer from chronic pain, meaning they hurt ALL the time and it doesn't go away. Read this lesson to learn more about this condition as well as its possible treatment options.

What is Chronic Pain?

Imagine living a life where you feel pain all the time, and it never heals and or gets any better. In some cases it may be a minor, constant aching feeling, but in others, it may be intense and unrelenting. This is how patients with chronic pain live day to day. It's estimated that about 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, which is defined as long-lasting pain: some sources list it as pain lasting longer than three months, and others list it as pain lasting longer than six months. In any case, it doesn't go away quickly on its own!

Possible Causes and Symptoms of Chronic Pain

In some cases, chronic pain develops with no obvious cause. In other cases, a specific injury or illness may cause initial pain, but then the pain lingers and does not go away on its own through the body's normal healing process. The pain signals in the nervous system stay activated and do not settle on their own, resulting in both physical and emotional unrest.

In fact, the mind-body interface often becomes blurry and the two work against each other. Chronic pain can both cause - and be caused by - the following:

  • sleep disorders
  • fatigue
  • mood disorders
  • decreased appetite leading to malnutrition

Unfortunately, the items on this list involve the same defense mechanisms the body needs to fight off infections and/or pain. Chronic pain also causes changes in flexibility or movement ability, decreases in strength, and decreases in stamina, as well as emotional turmoil over always feeling the discomfort of pain. The physical limitations often lead to further emotional disruptions. As such, treatment options usually involve treating both the physical and emotional aspects of such a condition.

Managing Chronic Pain

As you can imagine, chronic pain is difficult to treat. First of all, there is no objective measure of pain - each person interprets pain slightly differently, so there is no single cure-all. Second, in many cases, there is no identifiable cause of the pain, so how on earth are doctors expected to make it go away?

Thus, each patient's treatment plan is tailored to their individual scenario and symptoms. Typically, with patients of chronic pain, the goal is to manage the pain rather than completely cure it (though obviously, eliminating the pain entirely is the ideal situation).

There are a number of ways to treat chronic pain, and a few of them are listed below.

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