Chronic pain last months or years and happens in all parts of the body. It interferes with daily life and can lead to depression and anxiety. The first step in treatment is to find and treat the cause. When that isn’t possible, the most effective approach is a combination of medications, therapies and lifestyle changes.
What is chronic pain?
Chronic pain is pain that lasts for over three months. The pain can be there all the time, or it may come and go. It can happen anywhere in your body.
Chronic pain can interfere with your daily activities, such as working, having a social life and taking care of yourself or others. It can lead to depression, anxiety and trouble sleeping, which can make your pain worse. This response creates a cycle that’s difficult to break.
What’s the difference between chronic pain and other pain?
Chronic pain differs from another type of pain called acute pain. Acute pain happens when you get hurt, such as experiencing a simple cut to your skin or a broken bone. It doesn’t last long, and it goes away after your body heals from whatever caused the pain. In contrast, chronic pain continues long after you recover from an injury or illness. Sometimes it even happens for no obvious reason.
Where do people have chronic pain?
Chronic pain can come in many different forms and appear across your body. Common types of chronic pain include:
- Arthritis, or joint pain.
- Back pain.
- Neck pain.
- Cancer pain near a tumor.
- Headaches, including migraines.
- Testicular pain (orchialgia).
- Lasting pain in scar tissue.
- Muscle pain all over (such as with fibromyalgia).
- Neurogenic pain, from damage to the nerves or other parts of the nervous system.
What causes chronic pain?
Injuries and diseases can also cause changes to your body that leave you more sensitive to pain. These changes can stay in place even after you’ve healed from the original injury or disease. Something like a sprain, a broken bone or a brief infection can leave you with chronic pain.
Some people also have chronic pain that’s not tied to an injury or physical illness. Healthcare providers call this response psychogenic pain or psychosomatic pain. It’s caused by psychological factors such as stress, anxiety and depression. Many scientists believe this connection comes from low levels of endorphins in the blood. Endorphins are natural chemicals that trigger positive feelings.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
If you have chronic pain, it may be helpful to ask your healthcare provider the following questions:
- What’s causing my pain?
- Will it go away? If no, why not?
- What kinds of medications can I take? What are their side effects?
- Should I try physical or psychological therapy?
- Is it safe to exercise?
- What else can I do to relieve my chronic pain?
- Should I call you if it gets worse?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Chronic pain lasts months or years and can interfere with your ability to work, enjoy activities and take care of yourself or others. If you have chronic pain, please talk to a healthcare provider or pain specialist. There are ways to manage your pain to help you toward a more comfortable life.