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Understanding Chronic Pain

Chronic means ongoing. Pain is called “chronic” when it lasts over a long period of time, at least three months. This includes pain that you feel regularly, even if it comes and goes. Chronic pain may be due to chronic stimulus. Or, it may be due to problems with the body’s pain-control system. This can lead to a chronic pain syndrome. An example of this is fibromyalgia. Read below to learn more.

Outline of person with arm raised showing pain cycle. Source of pain is ongoing or is not in specific location. Pain signals move through nerves and up spinal cord. Pain gates open to let signals through. Brain interprets signals, but body can't protect itself. Brain can't produce enough endorphins to control pain. Pain gates stay open.

Chronic Stimulus

Chronic pain may be from a chronic stimulus. This means the cause of pain is not cured. The cause may be an untreated injury or health problem. Examples of these are joint degeneration (arthritis) and back injury. Other common causes are nervous system damage (neuropathic pain) and headaches. With this type of pain, both the pain and the condition that is causing it must be treated.

Chronic Pain Syndrome

Sometimes no cause can be found for the pain. This is called chronic pain syndrome. The pain may occur because the brain can’t make enough endorphins. These are chemicals that shut down pain signals. Or, pain signals continue after an injury has healed. In some cases, increased pain sensitivity makes even minor injuries very painful.


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