Pain is the body’s warning signal that something is not right. When painful symptoms first arise, patients and their health care providers work together to see if they can identify and address the underlying cause. For many conditions and injuries, however, there is no precise medical or surgical cure. As time passes, in addition to other diagnoses or even without an identifiable cause, patients may be diagnosed with chronic pain. Treatment goals will then shift from resolving the pain to reducing and managing it.
Typically, pain is considered chronic when it persists for six months or more. But for some patients, chronic pain can last for years or even a lifetime. There are many possible causes for long-term pain, including injury, such as involvement in a car accident, or underlying disorders or diseases, like fibromyalgia or arthritis.
The type of pain experienced can be as varied as the reasons behind it. Pain can be felt as burning, stabbing, aching, pulsing, and many other sensations. These sensations can occur anywhere in the body, and can range from mild to severe, from intermittent to continuous, and from distracting to disabling. Over time, chronic pain can become a disease in and of itself, creating notable changes in the body, particularly the nervous system.
Because each individual person with pain is so unique, it can be challenging to manage pain effectively. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment, and pain management is usually aimed at reducing pain, not eliminating it. Working alongside health care providers, most people with pain will need to engage in a process of trial and error to find a treatment plan that works for them. Typically, successful pain management requires finding a combination of multidisciplinary, multimodal therapies that reduce pain enough to improve quality of life and increase function.