Chronic pain is described as any pain that lasts for 12 weeks or more. Chronic pain may initially arise from an injury such as a fall or a sprain, or it could be due to an ongoing illness such as neuralgia or MS. The pain often manifests as headaches, joint pain, gastrointestinal pain or backache. But other types of chronic pain include tendinitis, sinus pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and pain affecting major joints or muscles of the body including the shoulders, pelvis, and neck. Nerve pain such as sciatica can also develop into a chronic condition.
What are the symptoms?
Like any type of pain, it can be personal and subjective which makes chronic pain often difficult to diagnose. Pain can be sharp, dull, lingering or sporadic. It can be mild or excruciating, debilitating or just irritating.
Long term pain is not typically a problem that is isolated, and is often accompanied by other health problems including fatigue, sleep disturbance, decreased appetite, and mood changes, low immunity, withdrawal from social situations and depression. As pain often affects movement, weight gain and/or muscle loss may also result.
As diagnosis can be difficult, the treatment pathway should be tailored to suit the individual with the help of a team of health professionals - this may include doctors, specialists, physiotherapists and alternative therapists. The aim of treatment is always to reduce pain and improve function, so that the person can resume day-to-day activities. Although there are a huge range of treatment options, it’s important to remember that often chronic pain cannot be cured and so the focus should be management of symptoms.
Where to seek help
The first port of call if you suspect that you have chronic pain is your doctor. They should be able to work with you to put together a team of experts to work on your treatment (called a multi-disciplinary care program). Don't underestimate the effect of social support too - speak to family, friends and colleagues about your condition and how you’re feeling.
Written by Ruth Tongue