What Happens

In some cases, chronic pain develops after an injury or illness. The pain continues even after you have recovered from the injury or illness. For example, many people who have had a limb amputated report feeling chronic pain in the missing limb (phantom limb pain). Chronic pain can also develop even though you have not had an injury or illness. But the result is often the same-a cycle of sleeplessness, inactivity, irritability, depression, and more pain.

Chronic pain may be mild to severe. You may have pain that comes back from time to time over several weeks, months, or years. Occasional, mild to moderate pain can usually be managed at home. Exercise, good nutrition, regular massages, and pain-relieving drugs-such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), for example, ibuprofen or aspirin-may be enough to manage your symptoms.

On the other hand, you may have constant chronic pain that is severe. You may be unable to work, and physical activity may be too painful or exhausting. Sleeping at night may be difficult, resulting in fatigue and irritability. Your outlook on life may change and strain your relationships with family and friends. Prolonged pain may restrict your daily activities and eventually lead to disability. Without specialized treatment, chronic pain syndrome can become disabling.

After treatment begins, many things can interfere with your recovery, such as dependency on drugs or alcohol, overwhelming stress, lack of motivation, depression or other mental health problems, or ongoing litigation because of a workers' compensation claim. If your pain is disabling, you may want to seek an evaluation at a pain management clinic, where a team of doctors work together to treat your pain.

The lives of your family members, friends, or caregivers can also be affected. The people you count on to help you may also need some support. Family therapy or involvement in a caregiver support program may help.  

What Increases Your Risk

Factors that may increase the risk of chronic pain include:

  • Aging. Older adults are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, shingles, and other causes of nerve problems (neuropathy). But chronic pain is not a normal part of growing older.

  • Smoking. Nicotine use can increase pain and decrease the effectiveness of medicines.

  • Health problems. These include:

  • Existing health conditions, such as fibromyalgia, shingles, arthritis, depression or anxiety disorders, or having a limb amputated (phantom limb pain).

  • Past health problems, such as joint injuries. Also, previous surgery may cause new pain or may not work to relieve pain (such as back surgery that does not relieve pain).

  • Overall general health condition. You may have a weakened immune system, which can lead to frequent infections or illness.

  • Conditions that are difficult to treat, such as nerve pain from shingles (postherpetic neuralgia).

  • Lifestyle, such as not eating healthy foods, not exercising regularly, smoking, or having a substance abuse or alcohol dependency problem.

Other factors that may increase your risk for chronic pain include injury, stress, inactivity, relationship problems, or a history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse 

See also

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