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Causes & diagnosis

Causes

There are many factors that can increase your risk of chronic pain. These factors can be environmental or biological, and include:

  • Genetics
  • Increased age
  • Being female
  • Having surgery
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Stress or mood disorders
  • Previous trauma

Chronic pain is typically caused by an injury or a separate, underlying health condition. The most common pain conditions are back pain, arthritis, and migraine and headache disorders, but there are hundreds of conditions that can cause long-term pain.

Diagnosis

Currently, there are no reliable tests that can objectively measure pain, although researchers are working to change that. In the meantime, clinicians typically rely on diagnostic tests to determine the cause of the pain, if possible, and to identify appropriate treatment. Clinicians also rely on the patient’s report of his or her pain for diagnosis, which is why mutual respect, trust, and candor is essential. Tests that can help determine or clarify the underlying cause of pain include:

  • Bloodwork
  • Imaging, such as MRI, X-rays, CT scans, ultrasound
  • Diagnostic injections
  • Electromyography (used to assess muscle health and function)
  • Nerve conduction testing (used to assess nerve health and function)
  • Neurological assessments
  • Mobility and strength assessments
  • Genetic testing

Accurate diagnosis is vital to effective treatment. Your type of pain will usually determine which diagnostic tools are right for you. There are currently no mainstream tests that can objectively measure the intensity of pain or precisely pinpoint the location of pain. Clinicians typically rely on the patient’s report of their symptoms to determine diagnosis and treatment. That’s why clear communication, trust, and transparency between patients and their physicians is so important.