Signs & Symptoms of Chronic Pain

Defined by the National Institutes of Health as pain that has lasted for three months or more, chronic pain can range from mild to excruciating and can alternate between being inconvenient or completely incapacitating. Additionally, chronic pain can be constant, occur in regular episodes, or may occur in response to certain triggers. This pain is due to an ongoing firing of the nervous system, which continues to signal pain for months or even years. In most cases, chronic pain is the result of an acute injury, such as joint, back, neck, or spinal cord injuries. However, chronic pain can also stem from certain medical conditions or diseases, such as tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, shingles, and cancer.

If you or someone you love is suffering with chronic pain, know there is help available. There are specific treatment programs for chronic pain that focus on pain reduction and improved functioning, so that an individual is able to once again partake in day-to-day activities.

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Causes and Risk Factors for Chronic Pain

There are a vast amount of diseases, disorders, and other conditions that can cause chronic pain, as well as a number of additional environmental factors. Furthermore, in some instances, certain factors have been known to make the presence of pain even worse. Some of the most common causes for chronic pain include:

Physical: For some individuals, chronic pain can be the result of a serious disease or condition, such as inflammatory syndromes, cancers, and infections. Additionally, recent research has found that those who are struggling with chronic pain may have low levels of endorphins in their spinal fluid.

Environmental: The most common causes of chronic pain are injuries, typically in the form of lifting injuries or strains to the lower back and knees. Injuries can also be the result of automobile accidents, sports injuries, and other traumas. Furthermore, pain is also attributed to poor posture, non-ergonomic workstations, and repetitive motions.

Risk factors:

  • Advanced age
  • Previous trauma or injury
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Being an athlete
  • Working in manual labor

Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Pain

In addition to their physical pain, individuals who are suffering from chronic pain most often experience other symptoms that are associated with their illness. Some of these symptoms may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Inability to carry out certain daily tasks
  • Inactivity

Physical symptoms:

  • Mild to severe pain that does not go away
  • Pain that can be described as shooting, burning, aching, or electrical
  • Visceral pain
  • Somatic pain
  • Bone pain
  • Neuropathy
  • Circulatory problems
  • Headaches
  • Discomfort
  • Soreness
  • Tightness
  • Stiffness
  • Weakened immune system
  • Fatigue
  • Sleeplessness
  • Disability

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Changes in mood
  • Hopelessness
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Chronic Pain

The presence of chronic pain can cause a number of complications, but ultimately specific effects are going to depend upon the underlying disease, disorders, or condition that a person is struggling with. Without proper treatment or pain management, over time, chronic pain can take an emotional and physical toll on a person. Some additional complications that can arise as a result of chronic pain may include:

  • Multiple absences from work
  • Dependence on prescription painkillers
  • Permanent nerve damage
  • Pain that does not respond to treatment
  • Development of mental health conditions
  • Overall poor quality of life
  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal ideation and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

When an individual is struggling with chronic pain, it is not uncommon for him or her to be battling a mental health condition simultaneously as well. Some disorders that can occur alongside chronic pain include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
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