What is Chronic Pain?

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage”.

When thinking about chronic pain, it is important to realize the difference between chronic pain and acute pain. Acute pain is a normal reaction to an injury that provides an early warning system that an injury has occurred. Acute pain does not last very long, as the majority of injuries will normally heal within three months.

On the other hand, chronic pain is pain that doesn’t go away after three months. Chronic pain can be intermittent – occurring on and off, the pain may vary with intensity during the day or can be completely constant. Chronic pain can result from a known cause, such as surgery or inflamed joints, or a consequence of a disease process, such as, rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes the cause is unknown.

There are different types of chronic pain. Two of the major chronic pains are:

  • Musculoskeletal Pain – Pain that affects the bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Musculoskeletal pain can result from various causes including sports or occupational injuries, motor vehicle collisions, repetitive strain injuries and disease processes, such as, arthritis.
  • Neuropathic Pain – A complex, multi-faceted state of chronic pain that may have no obvious cause. It can involve damaged tissue, injury or malfunctioning nerve fibers or changes in brain processing. An example of neuropathic pain is phantom limb syndrome. The brain still receives signals from nerves that originally carried impulses from the now missing limb. Other types of neuropathic pain include numbness, burning, ‘pins and needles’ sensations and shooting pain.

 

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