Chronic Pain

When you get injured or have surgery, you expect to hurt for a while, but you know that in time, you will heal and the pain will leave. If you have a medical condition — from arthritis to heart disease to shingles — you recognize discomfort as a symptom and trust that treatment will help. While you wait for your body to mend, pain medication provides relief.

Chronic pain is different. Sometimes, it is an effect of an injury that appears to have healed. Sometimes, it is a lingering symptom of a past illness. Usually the nervous system, including the brain, where the pain is being processed, has changed. Over time, physical pain takes an emotional toll, making your body hurt even more. Anxiety magnifies unpleasant sensations, and sleep problems leave you feeling weak and helpless.

Chronic PainWhen you have chronic pain, it can dominate your thinking, sometimes in ways that are not obvious. To become informed about your condition, for instance, you may spend a lot of time monitoring pain-related publications and Internet newsgroups. Of course it is important to understand what is happening to your body and perhaps connect with people who have similar problems. But constantly reading and talking about pain keeps you focused on what is wrong when you could be finding ways to build on everything that is still right.

Persistence poor response to treatment, unknown cause, sleep disruption and emotional fallout — these are the hallmarks of chronic pain. And the longer you have had it, the less likely it will be to disappear, whatever you do. But chronic pain does not have to rule your life.