What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is pain that continues beyond the expected period of healing for an illness or injury. In chronic pain, signals of pain remain active in the nervous system for weeks, months, or years.

What are the effects of chronic pain?

Chronic pain can lead to a chronic stress reaction that causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. This stress reaction can lead to harmful health effects, such as a reduced ability to fight off illnesses and diseases. It also can increase the risk for conditions such as heart disease.

Chronic pain’s physical effects include:

  • Tense muscles
  • Limited ability to move about
  • Lack of energy, and
  • Changes in appetite.

The emotional effects include:

  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Anxiety, and
  • Fear of re-injury.

These fears may slow down a person’s ability to return to his or her everyday or leisure activities.

How is chronic pain treated?

The ideal treatment for chronic pain is a broad approach that addresses a person’s physical, emotional, and mental needs. Successful treatment requires choosing a life-long plan of wellness that might include:

  • Treatment from a doctor
  • Physical therapy
  • Psychological treatments
  • Occupational therapy

What are some self-management tips for a person living with chronic pain?

  • Learn how to relax through deep breathing and other stress management techniques.
  • Set achievable goals and don't overdo it on good days. Learn to pace yourself.
  • Focus on positive thoughts.
  • Set a daily schedule that includes time for rest, exercise, and relaxation.
  • Join a chronic pain support group and/or find the nearest meeting for the American Pain Society.
  • Know your medicines, including expected benefits and side effects. When the costs of medicines are greater than the benefits, ask your doctor if there’s a better choice. A medicine is working if it helps you have a normal mood and activity level. If the medicine decreases your desire or ability to be active, ask your doctor about other choices.
  • Take all medicines as they are prescribed, but don’t hesitate to ask questions. Ask if the medicine that is prescribed is meant to treat symptoms or to manage an underlying disease.
  • Cut down on alcohol, or stop drinking alcohol completely. Pain often disrupts sleep, and alcohol can further upset the sleep cycle.
  • Quit smoking. Cigarettes can interfere with healing and are a risk factor for developing many diseases, including degenerative disc disease (a leading cause of low back pain).

To manage chronic pain, all aspects of a person’s physical and emotional health must be considered. When chronic pain is managed effectively, a person can return to a more productive and fulfilling lifestyle.

References

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 4/3/2017...#11977