3.  The causes of Chronic Pain

Anyone can develop chronic pain, although it most commonly affects older adults and people with health conditions like diabetes, arthritis, or back problems. Persistent pain is not a normal part of ageing and treatment for it should be sought.

Chronic pain cannot be prevented in every case. However, early, aggressive treatment of sudden and severe pain may reduce the odds of it developing into chronic pain.

The amount of pain that different people experience as a result of apparently identical injuries can vary a great deal. One person may suffer greatly, while another does not even need minor pain relievers. Sometimes a seemingly minor injury, perhaps just a paper cut, can lead to severe and persistent pain. We don't know why this happens - some people just appear to be predisposed to pain, while others seem to be immune. These individual differences may reflect upbringing or cultural traditions. However, there are more and more indications that pain response may be affected by our genes. And we have no control over our genes.

Chronic pain often sets the stage for a complex set of physical and psycho-social changes that are an integral part of the chronic pain problem. These ancillary effects, which add greatly to the pain patient's burden, can include:

  1. Immobility and consequent wasting of muscle, joints, etc.
  2. Depression of the immune system and increased susceptibility to disease.
  3. Disturbed sleep.
  4. Poor appetite and nutrition.
  5. Dependence on medication.
  6. Over-dependence on family and other caregivers.
  7. Repeated and/or inappropriate use of professional healthcare services.
  8. Poor performance on the job or inability to work.
  9. Introspective isolation from friends, family and society.
  10. Anxiety and/or fear.
  11. Bitterness, frustration, depression, and even suicide.

With so many possible causes, the precise cause of chronic pain can be hard to pinpoint. While pain may start with a disease or injury, it can persist because of stress, emotional problems, improper treatment, or persistent abnormal pain signals in the body. Chronic pain can even occur without any previous injury, illness or known cause.

There are a number of specific diseases that are often associated with pain - diabetes, blood vessel problems, shingles, and most types of cancer, for example. Treatment may bring the disease under control, or even cure it completely, but the chronic pain carries on and on.

On the other hand, it is a mistake to think that if the pain-causing disease cannot be cured, neither can the pain. Managing chronic pain requires the attention of a medical specialist, just as treating a specific disease like cancer needs the expertise of a specialist (an oncologist).

If you are suffering from chronic pain, discuss treatment options with your doctor and ask to be referred to a Pain Specialist near you.