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What Causes Chronic Pain?

June 6, 2022

Pain is something we all experience now and then. It’s our body’s way of telling us we are hurt or ill. Typically, the pain is short-lived and goes away in a few days or as soon as the injury or illness causing it has healed. But sometimes, pain can linger long after the injury/illness causing it. When this happens, you may be suffering from chronic pain.

What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is a persistent pain that lasts for more than 12 weeks or pain that continues long after the injury or illness causing it to have healed. It can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the cause. 

Without proper care, this type of pain can become debilitating and interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, and enjoy life. Statistics show that chronic pain is a widespread problem and one of the leading causes of long-term disability in the United States. The Journal of the International Association for Pain suggests that more than 1 in 5 American adults experience chronic pain at any given time.

Causes of Chronic Pain

There are many possible causes of chronic pain. It can result from an injury, illness, or nerve damage. It can also be caused by psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, and depression. In some cases, chronic pain can also develop without any apparent injury or illness.

It is also worth noting that chronic pain can develop years after the initial injury has healed. This is because the nervous system is already “sensitized” to pain from previous trauma.

Types of Chronic Pain

Arthritis Pain

Arthritis is a general term for conditions that cause inflammation in the joints. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which develops when the cartilage that protects the joints breaks down. This can lead to ongoing pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints. Arthritis can also lead to chronic pain in other body parts, including the back and neck.

Back Pain

Chronic back pain is one of the most prevalent forms of pain. It can be caused by things like muscle strain, herniated discs, years of bad posture, and degenerative disc disease, among other things. Back pain mainly affects the lower back, but it can also occur in the upper back, neck, and shoulders.

Neuropathic Pain

As the name suggests, neuropathic pain is caused by damage to the nervous system. This can result from an injury, surgery, infection, or other conditions. Neuropathic pain is often manifested through a burning sensation, shooting pain, and tingling in the affected area.

Post-Trauma Pain

Post-trauma pain is pain that occurs after an injury or surgery. It may result from a fracture, sprains, or damage to the nerves, muscles, tendons, or ligaments.

Cancer Pain

Chronic cancer pain occurs when cancerous cells or tumors press on nerves or invade nearby bones or organs. Some cancer treatments such as surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy can also lead to chronic pain.

Psychogenic Pain

Psychogenic pain is pain caused by psychological factors such as anxiety, PTSD, and depression. This type of pain is often hard to diagnose as there is no physical cause. These psychological factors have also been known to aggravate various forms of pain.

Risk Factors for Chronic Pain

Chronic pain can affect anyone. However, several factors can increase a person’s likelihood of developing chronic pain. They include:

Age: Older adults are more likely to experience chronic pain than younger adults. This is because the body weakens and becomes more susceptible to illness with age.

Obesity: People who are obese also have a higher likelihood of developing chronic pain than people who are not obese. This may be due to the added strain on the joints and muscles. Being obese also increases the risk of developing arthritis, another leading cause of chronic pain.

Gender: Women are more likely to experience chronic pain than men. This can be tied to hormonal changes, low stress tolerance, and high pain sensitivity, which are more common in women.

Smoking: Smoking can damage the nerves and reduce blood flow to the tissues, which may exacerbate chronic pain and lead to inflammation.

Previous Injuries: People who have had previous injuries are more likely to experience chronic pain because their bodies are already sensitized to pain.

Genetics Make-Up: Although the connection between genetics and chronic pain is not fully understood, there is some evidence to suggest that certain genes or gene variations can increase one’s risk of developing chronic pain or conditions that lead to chronic pain.

Mental Illness: Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety can affect how the brain processes information, including pain signals. When this happens, the brain may interpret non-painful stimuli as painful or amplify pain signals.

The Bottom Line

Chronic pain is a serious condition that can have life-changing consequences. It can make it difficult to perform everyday activities or lead a normal life. If you are struggling with chronic pain, it is essential to talk to your doctor about your treatment options.

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