Pain is an inevitable part of life because it is the body’s natural reaction to injuries, infections, and illnesses. The unpleasant sensation indicates that something is wrong.

Typically, pain goes away once the body restores its usual, healthy state. However, some individuals continue to experience pain after its original cause has resolved. If this pain lasts for more than 3 months, doctors call it chronic pain.

Around 25.3 million adults in the United States live with chronic pain every day, which affects their emotional and physical health. In addition, chronic pain can cause complications such as trouble sleeping, stress, anxiety, and depression.

Doctors may find chronic pain syndrome challenging to treat, but it is possible. A combination of medications, counseling, and other therapies can help relieve pain and ease complications.

Keep reading to learn more about chronic pain syndrome, including its causes, treatment, outlook, and some associated conditions.

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Doctors are unsure why some individuals develop chronic pain syndrome after certain injuries and illnesses. However, generally, the syndrome follows an initial painful condition, such as:

When the initial condition improves through medications or other therapies, for most people, the pain stops. However, some individuals continue to experience chronic pain. Doctors believe the reason for this may be that nerve cells in the brain, responsible for the transmission and processing of sensory information, become hypersensitive to pain signals.

For example, around 20% of people with osteoarthritis who undergo total knee replacement surgery still experience chronic pain. The surgery should correct painful knee joint problems, yet this is not true for everyone.

Although anyone can experience chronic pain, it is more common among females and people with disabilities. Depression, anxiety, and substance dependency may also play a role.

Chronic pain syndrome is both emotionally and physically stressful. Some individuals may experience constant pain, while others experience flares of intense pain, which subsides to lesser pain.

One 2016 study found that almost 61% of people with chronic pain also had depression.

Other symptoms may include:

The emotional toll of chronic pain can negatively affect an individual’s relationships, education, or work.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Chronic pain often requires other treatments besides medication. Firstly, doctors may recommend pain-relieving medication, including anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants. They may also prescribe antidepressants to reduce pain signals, such as:

  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor
  • tricyclics
  • gabapentinoids

People may also require physical therapy. This treatment approach helps manage pain and improve movement problems that may impact an individual’s daily life.

Additionally, people may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy to help reframe any negative thought patterns. Research shows that this form of talk therapy may be valuable for some individuals with chronic pain.

Individuals may also find relief from chronic pain through alternative therapies such as acupuncture. Although research states this technique yields mixed results, acupuncture may provide relief for some individuals, particularly those who do not respond to standard treatments.

Learn more about natural ways to relieve pain here.

Chronic pain syndrome and fibromyalgia are two different conditions, but it is possible to have both simultaneously.

Doctors do not know what causes fibromyalgia, a condition that experts characterize by widespread pain, sleep issues, irritable bowel issues, fatigue, and emotional and mental health issues. People with fibromyalgia may have increased sensitivity to pain, which healthcare professionals call abnormal pain perception processing.

It seems that while fibromyalgia may suddenly arise with no cause, chronic pain syndrome usually has an identifiable trigger, such as an injury or arthritis. However, fibromyalgia itself can lead to chronic pain syndrome.

Doctors can help many individuals with chronic pain. However, the condition is complex, and the outlook for someone with chronic pain syndrome may depend on their ability to cope with the condition and self-regulate their pain.

An individual may need to work with a team of medical professionals to address their physical, emotional, and mental well-being and help them manage their condition optimally.

Various conditions can cause chronic pain, including those that lead to nerve pain. Some of these include:

  • Central pain syndrome (CPS): CPS may arise following a spinal injury and damage to the central nervous system. Symptoms include pain, itching, numbness, and loss of sensation. Individuals with CPS may become extremely sensitive to pain.
  • Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS): This is an umbrella term to describe excess and chronic pain and inflammation following a limb injury. Typically, CRPS improves over time before resolving, but in rare instances, people may experience severe and prolonged cases.
  • Trigeminal neuralgia: Also called “tic douloureux,” this condition causes excruciating pain, usually to the lower face and lower jaw. Symptoms include intense, electric shock-like pain due to irritation of the trigeminal nerve. Unfortunately, doctors cannot always cure the condition.
  • Phantom limb pain: If an individual has a limb amputated, they may still experience ongoing pain that seems to come from the limb that is no longer there. Phantom limb pain can feel like burning, itching, or pressure that lasts from seconds to days.
  • Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN): This complication of shingles can cause severe and debilitating pain for months or years after the rash subsides. Up to 18% of individuals who have shingles also experience PHN.

Below are frequently asked questions relating to chronic pain.

What is considered chronic pain?

Chronic pain is pain that lasts more 3 months or longer.

How do you deal with severe chronic pain?

Treatment for severe chronic pain will depend on its cause. However, treatment options include:

  • pain relievers, including NSAIDs
  • muscle relaxants
  • antidepressants
  • CBT
  • physical therapy

What is the most common type of chronic pain?

There are many causes of chronic pain. It can follow a short-term injury or illness without a clear explanation but is more commonly a result of an underlying chronic condition such as:

  • fibromyalgia
  • nerve damage
  • forms of arthritis
  • shingles
  • cancer

Pain is the body’s natural response to infection, disease, or injury. Therefore, it should subside once the original condition runs its course. However, for some individuals, the pain does not end when the underlying cause resolves.

Doctors classify chronic pain as pain that lasts for longer than 3 months. Because this pain negatively affects an individual’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being, they may develop additional symptoms of depression, anxiety, and more. Healthcare professionals may then classify this as chronic pain syndrome.

People may require a combination of medication, physical therapy, and mental health support to overcome chronic pain syndrome.