Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about chronic pain.
What is chronic pain?
Chronic pain is defined as any pain lasting more than 12 weeks.
It can come on suddenly or gradually and be short-lived or long-lasting.
Chronic pain can be mild, moderate, or severe.
Basically, chronic pain can happen in any part of your body. (1)
According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, chronic pain is the most common cause of disability in the United States, affecting more than 100 million adults. (2)
What are the most common types of chronic pain?
The most common types of chronic pain include:
- Lower back pain
- Neck pain
- Arthritis pain
- Joint pain
- Nerve pain (neuropathic pain)
- Cancer pain
- Muscle pain
What are the causes of chronic pain?
Usually, chronic pain is the result of an underlying health condition. (3)
Conditions that commonly cause chronic pain include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Spinal stenosis
- Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
- Interstitial cystitis
- Kidney stones
- Pelvic pain
What are the symptoms of chronic pain?
The symptoms of chronic pain can vary depending on the type and cause.
Common symptoms include:
- Numbness and tingling
Other symptoms of chronic pain include:
How is chronic pain diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms.
They may also order tests, such as blood tests, imaging scans, or nerve testing.
How is chronic pain treated?
Treatment for chronic pain often depends on the underlying cause of the pain. (4)
The goal of treatment is to relieve pain and improve your quality of life.
Standard treatment options include:
- Medications: over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, prescription pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants
- Injections: corticosteroid injections can help reduce inflammation and pain
- Physical therapy: exercises, massage, heat and cold therapy, and electrical stimulation
- Diet and nutrition: eating a healthy diet, taking supplements, and avoiding inflammatory foods
- Weight loss: losing weight can help reduce joint pain
- Acupuncture: this ancient Chinese practice involves inserting thin needles into the skin to relieve pain
- Chiropractic care: this treatment focuses on the musculoskeletal system and uses adjustments to the spine and other joints to relieve pain
- Surgery: in some cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve chronic pain
- Psychological counseling: talking to a therapist can help you deal with the emotional aspects of chronic pain
- Massage therapy: this therapy can help relax the muscles and relieve pain
- Biofeedback: This technique uses sensors to monitor the body’s response to stress and pain and then teaches the person how to control these responses.
- Relaxation techniques: such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing, can help relieve stress and pain
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): this type of therapy can help change the way a person thinks about pain, which may help relieve pain
- Stress management: Stress can make the pain worse, so learning how to manage stress can help relieve chronic pain
What are the Complications of chronic pain?
Chronic pain can lead to several complications, such as:
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Social isolation
- Problems at work or school
- Relationship difficulties
- Substance abuse
What can I do to prevent chronic pain?
There is no sure way to prevent chronic pain, but there are some things you can do to lower your risk, such as:
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Quit smoking
- Avoid injuries
- Eat a healthy diet
- Manage stress
- Get enough sleep
When should I see a doctor for chronic pain?
You should see your doctor if you have chronic pain that is not relieved by over-the-counter medication or home remedies.
You should also see your doctor if your chronic pain interferes with your daily activities or if you have other symptoms, such as fatigue, weight loss, or depression.
How can I manage chronic pain at home?
There are many things you can do at home to help manage your chronic pain, such as:
- Exercise: Exercise can help reduce pain and improve your overall health. Gentle activities, such as walking or swimming, are usually best.
- Manage stress: Stress can make the pain worse, so finding ways to manage your stress can help you feel better.
- Try relaxation techniques: such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.
- Eat a healthy diet: Eating a healthy diet can help you maintain a healthy weight, reducing pain.
- Get enough sleep: Getting enough rest can help your body heal and reduce pain.
- Try massage therapy: Massage therapy can help relax the muscles and relieve your chronic pain.
- Eat foods that fight pain: Some foods, such as ginger, can help reduce inflammation and pain.
- Apply heat or cold: Applying heat or cold to the affected area can help relieve pain.
- Use over-the-counter medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can help relieve pain.
- Seek support: Talking to a therapist or support group can help you deal with the emotional aspects of chronic pain.
If you’re living with chronic pain, there are many resources available to help you cope.
The following organizations can provide you with more information and support: