Chronic pain is the medical term for pain that lasts more than about three months. The word “chronic” means “long-lasting.”
You feel pain when you break your leg, burn your hand or have surgery. Doctors call this “acute pain” because it happens immediately and goes away with time and treatment. As your injury or surgery site heals, you feel less and less pain.
Chronic pain is different. You have it even after the injury, surgery site or disease heals. This is sometimes because you have a long-lasting condition in the area that was hurt or had surgery, such as with arthritis in a shoulder joint that was injured. It can also happen when your brain continues to get pain messages from nerves. For example, if you lose an arm or leg, you can feel pain where it used to be. The body part is gone, but the pain still exists in your brain. To put it another way, if your brain had a “pain” button, it would still be on even if no one was still pushing it.
You are not alone
Researchers estimate that more than 100 million American adults have chronic pain, so you are not alone. Chronic pain is one of the leading reasons we visit the doctor and take medication. It is extremely common.
Some chronic pain conditions
Conditions that cause chronic (long-lasting) pain include
- Arthritis—Inflammation in the joints. Osteoarthritis is one type, caused by bone problems. Gout is another type, caused by a buildup of crystals in the joint.
- Endometriosis—Very painful menstrual periods are caused by problems with the lining of the uterus (womb).
- Back pain—Pain in the lower back is common, but pain can happen almost anywhere in the back or neck.
- Migraine—A neurological (nervous system) condition. It includes headaches, vision disturbances, sensitivity to light and sounds and other symptoms.
- Fibromyalgia—A condition that causes muscle pain, fatigue (tiredness) and other symptoms.
Chronic pain affects all of you
Pain is not just in your body. It can affect your relationships, your work, your sleep and your mental and emotional health. Pain, especially chronic pain, affects your ability to enjoy life and focus on what you are doing.
Back pain is one example of a physical problem that affects other areas of life. Researchers know that if you have lower back pain, you are four times more likely to feel mental and emotional distress than if you were pain free. You would also be three times more likely to be limited in what you can do each day.
The good news is, making some changes to your daily life can also affect all of you. In this booklet, you will learn how something as simple as what you eat can make a difference in your chronic pain.