Chronic Pain is pain that does not go away. When pain lasts longer than 3 or 6 months, or beyond the usual time of recovery, it is said to be chronic. There are different types of chronic pain, many of which are not clearly understood. Chronic pain may be associated with an illness or disability, such as cancer, arthritis, or a phantom limb. Some types of pain start after an injury or accident and become chronic over time. Others may begin gradually, as is sometimes the case with low back pain. In some types of chronic pain, like migraine headaches, the pain is recurrent, rather than constant. There are many other kinds of chronic pain, such as postsurgical pain, fibromyalgia, temporomandibular disorders, and neuropathic pain. In some cases, the cause of chronic pain is known, whereas in many other cases, it is not.
It is estimated that between 10% and 30% of Canadians experience chronic pain. The direct and indirect costs associated with chronic pain are staggering, and they are estimated to be billions of dollars annually. Chronic pain affects both sexes, however, the rates are slightly higher in women. Although chronic pain can occur at any age, it is most common in middle age (for additional information about pain in the elderly, please see the CPA “Chronic Pain Among Seniors” Fact Sheet). Chronic pain can make simple movements hurt, disrupt sleep, and reduce energy. It can impair work, social, recreational, and household activities. People who have been injured in accidents may develop other symptoms, such as anxiety. Chronic pain can have a negative impact on financial security and, in some cases, it can contribute to alcohol or drug abuse. It can also disrupt marital and family relationships.
Pain is invisible. This can lead people who experience chronic pain to feel misunderstood or alone in their suffering. Some people find the legitimacy of their pain is questioned. Other people believe pain is “all in the head.” Pain is, indeed, all in the head because the brain is located in the head, and the origin of pain is in the brain. Given the impact pain can have on quality of life and other life domains, it is not surprising that more than a quarter of people who experience chronic pain also experience significant depression or anxiety. Medications are one of the most common ways to treat pain. Indeed, medications can be helpful, however, the suitability of long-term use needs to be carefully considered. More