Chronic or persistent pain can persist for over 12 weeks, despite medical treatment or intervention. It can affect people of all ages and all parts of the body. The pain can often remain even after routine tests come back clear. Chronic pain can have negative effects on both physical and mental health. The most common conditions to be associated with chronic pain include: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, surgical trauma, and advanced cancer.
Our bodies transmit signals from one part of the body to another, including pain signals. The brain decodes these signals to determine how serious and how strong the signals are. However, the brain doesn’t always receive and process these signals accurately, and pain that would usually subside over time can linger.
It is important to remember that pain is individual and can affect one person differently to the next. Two people could suffer the same injury but describe the pain experience differently in terms of both type, length, and severity. The body’s signals can be hard to stop, are often intense, and at times seem to start for no obvious reason.
Chronic pain initially caused by an illness or injury which has been treated or repaired can change the way our nerve cells function, making them hypersensitive to pain signals. This can lead to someone continuing to experience pain associated with the treated difficulty without physical reason. Pain is typically poorly understood and can sometimes leave people feeling as if others perceive their pain to be in their ‘head’ and ‘not real’.
- Historically, it was commonly recommended to gain respite whilst experiencing chronic pain (particularly back pain). However, we now know that it is more effective for recovery to continue life as normal without spending too much time resting or in bed.
- Try as far as possible to continue with day-to-day tasks. Research shows people become less active and experience increased low mood when not engaged in activity, such as work. Being at work can act as a distraction from pain, and in most cases, doesn’t usually make pain worse.
- Try to get regular exercise that doesn’t cause strain. For example, walking, swimming, exercise bikes, yoga and pilates can make great activities for those experiencing pain.
- If your physician has referred you for physiotherapy, this is worth engaging in as it can help.
- Try techniques such as guided self help or meditation to help manage pain. There are resources online such as the Pain tool kit and Meditainment.