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Are You One of the Millions of Adults Who Suffer from Chronic Pain?

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Chronic pain can have a significant impact on a person's life. It can make it difficult to work, attend school, and participate in activities that you enjoy. It can also lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that chronic pain is a common problem among adults in the United States. From 2019-2021, an estimated 51.5 million adults had chronic pain, while an estimated 17 million adults had high-impact chronic pain (chronic pain that results in substantial restriction to daily activities).

What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is persistent and ongoing pain that lasts for an extended period, often beyond the average healing time. It typically persists for three to six months or even longer. Unlike acute pain, chronic pain can be more complex, involving changes in the nervous system, and may not have an obvious cause. Chronic pain can significantly impact an individual's quality of life and may require a multimodal approach for its management.

On the other hand, acute pain refers to a temporary and short-term pain sensation that typically arises from a specific injury, such as a sprained ankle, a cut, or a burn. It often has a sudden onset and is related to tissue damage. Acute pain is a warning signal to the body, alerting it of potential harm or injury. Generally, acute pain subsides as the underlying injury or condition heals. Common examples of acute pain include post-operative pain or pain from an acute infection.

What are the Most Common Types of Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is often associated with conditions such as:

  • Arthritis: Arthritis, also known as joint pain, is a condition characterized by inflammation and stiffness in the joints. There are different types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis (caused by wear and tear on the joints), rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease), and gout (caused by uric acid buildup).
  • Back Pain: Chronic back pain tends to be more complex, involving various factors influencing its severity, duration, and treatment. Symptoms of chronic back pain include a dull, aching sensation in the lower back, sharp, localized pain in the neck, upper back, or lower back—especially after lifting heavy objects or engaging in strenuous activity, and chronic ache in the middle or lower back, particularly after standing or sitting for a prolonged period.
  • Neck Pain: Chronic neck pain may be experienced as a sharp or dull ache in the neck, stiffness, tenderness, difficulty moving the neck, and sometimes headaches. The pain may radiate from the neck to the shoulders, arms, or head, and may be intermittent or constant.
  • Foot Pain: Chronic foot pain can be caused by various conditions, including injuries, overuse, arthritis, nerve damage, or conditions specific to the foot, like plantar fasciitis or bunions. Common symptoms can include pain (sharp, dull, burning, or throbbing), swelling, stiffness, and difficulty walking.
  • Hip Pain: Common causes of chronic hip pain include conditions such as arthritis, hip fractures, bursitis, tendinitis, and nerve impingements like sciatica. Symptoms usually include persistent pain, stiffness, swelling, and reduced mobility.
  • Shoulder Pain: Chronic shoulder pain can result from various conditions affecting the shoulder joint and surrounding tissues. Pain can originate from the joint itself or from the many muscles, ligaments, or tendons in and around the shoulder. Symptoms may include a constant or intermittent ache in and around the shoulder, stiffness, decreased range of motion, weakness in the arm, or difficulty performing tasks that require shoulder movement.
  • Muscle Pain: Signs and symptoms of chronic muscle pain can include deep, aching, or throbbing pain; muscle tightness or stiffness; reduced range of motion in the joint near the part of the leg or arm where the pain is located, and a feeling of weakness in the muscle.
  • Headaches & Migraines: Chronic headaches and migraines are recurring pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck. Chronic headaches occur at least fifteen days a month for three consecutive months. They can be debilitating and affect quality of life.
  • Cancer Pain: Cancer pain, or the discomfort that stems from cancer or its treatment, can be persistent and range from mild to severe. The pain can result from the cancer itself—such as when a tumor invades nearby tissues or compresses nerves—or from procedures, surgeries, radiation, or chemotherapy used to treat the disease.
  • Neurogenic Pain: Neurogenic pain, also known as neuropathic pain, is a type of chronic pain that occurs when nerves in the central nervous system become injured or damaged. This is different from nociceptive pain, which is caused by damaged tissue.
  • Post-Surgical Pain: Post-surgical pain is a common type of discomfort experienced after any type of surgery. It's a natural part of the healing process as the body responds to the trauma caused by the surgery.
  • Chronic Pain Syndrome: Chronic pain syndrome can involve physical, emotional, and psychological factors that influence the perception and experience of pain. It often requires a multidisciplinary approach to management, including therapies targeting physical, emotional, and psychological aspects.
  • Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS): CRPS, also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, is a chronic pain characterized by intense and long-lasting pain, often affecting a limb after an injury. It is typically characterized by severe and prolonged pain that is disproportionate to the initial injury or inciting event. CRPS commonly affects one limb, usually an arm, hand, leg, or foot. The exact cause of CRPS is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve dysfunction in the central or peripheral nervous system.

What Groups of People Suffer the Most from Chronic Pain?

The CDC report also found that chronic pain is more common among:

  • Women
  • Older adults
  • Adults with lower socioeconomic status
  • Adults suffering from diabetes
  • Adults suffering from heart disease
  • Adults suffering from obesity
  • Veterans

What Causes Chronic Pain in Adults?

Chronic pain is usually caused by an initial injury, such as a back sprain or pulled muscle. It’s believed that chronic pain develops after nerves become damaged. The nerve damage makes the pain more intense and long-lasting. In these cases, treating the underlying injury may not resolve the chronic pain.

In some cases, however, people experience chronic pain without any prior injury. The exact causes of chronic pain without injury aren’t well understood. The pain may sometimes result from an underlying health condition.

Additional Facts About Chronic Pain

  • During 2021, an estimated 20.9% of U.S. adults (51.6 million persons) experienced chronic pain, and 6.9% (17.1 million persons) experienced high-impact chronic pain (i.e., chronic pain that results in substantial restriction to daily activities).
  • Chronic pain can also affect the human emotional state, such as depression, anger, anxiety, and fear.
  • Pain is the oldest medical problem, and attempting to relieve one's pain dates back to the 17th century – it wasn’t until the 1800s that doctors began seriously experimenting with other means to reduce pain.

How to Deal with Chronic Pain?

While there is no cure for chronic pain, effective management strategies can help alleviate its symptoms. Here are some steps to reduce stress:

  • Prioritize Self-Care: Chronic pain is not solely physical; it can also have an emotional impact, increasing stress levels. Developing emotional skills can aid in coping with the stress associated with the condition. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including nutritious eating habits, sufficient sleep, and regular exercise, can promote overall well-being and reduce stress.
  • Stay Active: Get regular exercise. Exercise can help to reduce pain and improve your overall health. Also, participating in activities that bring joy and connecting with friends can enhance mood and reduce stress. Although chronic pain may pose challenges for certain tasks, isolating oneself can contribute to a negative outlook and heightened pain sensitivity.
  • Get Enough Sleep. When you are well-rested, you are better able to cope with issues related to chronic pain.
  • Eat A Healthy Diet. Eating a healthy diet can help to reduce inflammation and improve your overall health.
  • Avoid Smoking and Excessive Alcohol Consumption. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can worsen chronic pain.
  • Reach Out for Support: Surrounding yourself with a support network, including friends, family, and support groups, can provide assistance and comfort during challenging times. Whether it is assistance with daily activities or a need for emotional support, a close friend or loved one can offer the necessary encouragement.
  • Seek Care the Care of a Pain Management Physician: Just as a cardiologist treats the heart and a dermatologist treats the skin, pain management physicians treat all forms of acute or chronic pain from head to toe. These highly trained, broad-certified doctors specialize in treating chronic pain.

Begin Seeking Relief from Chronic Pain Today!

There are a variety of treatments available for chronic pain, including medication, physical therapy, and surgery. The best treatment for you will depend on the type and severity of your pain. Take control of your pain and schedule a consultation for a brighter, pain-free future! If you have chronic pain, talk to an NSPC-affiliated pain management physician about treatment options that may be right for you.


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