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What Causes Chronic Pain?

People often ask - What causes chronic pain?

Sometimes chronic pain has an obvious, pinpointable cause. You may be suffering from a long-lasting illness such as arthritis or cancer that can cause ongoing pain. Injuries and diseases can also cause changes to your body, leaving you more sensitive to pain. These changes can sometimes stay in place, even after you’ve healed from the original injury or disease. Something like a sprain, a broken bone or a brief infection can leave you with chronic pain, long after the initial problem has healed.

In some cases, chronic pain can manifest even when not tied to an injury or physical illness. It is often triggered by psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). It is important to remember that trauma does not define you - it is the result of what has happened to you.

It is possible to have several causes of pain - sometimes they may trigger each other, or they may seem independent of one another. You could have two different symptoms simultaneously - for example, you could suffer from both migraines and psychogenic pain together.

What does chronic pain feel like?

People with chronic pain describe their pain in many ways, such as:

  • Aching

  • Burning

  • Shooting

  • Squeezing

  • Stiffness

  • Stinging

  • Throbbing

  • Flu-like symptoms

Chronic pain often leads to other symptoms and conditions, including:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Fatigue, or feeling overly tired most of the time

  • Insomnia, or trouble falling asleep

  • Mood swings

How is chronic pain diagnosed?

Pain is classed as chronic if it lasts continually or comes and goes (recurs) for more than three months. Pain is usually a symptom, pain is subjective — only the person experiencing it can identify and describe it, so often it can be difficult to determine the cause.

Common questions asked by practitioners:

  • Where is your pain? Can you describe where it is in your body?

  • How intense is it, on a scale of 0 to 10?

  • Is it all over, is it when sitting, when standing, or do you find it is exacerbated under different situations, circumstances or with certain people (for example, at work)?

  • How much is this affecting your life, work, and relationships?

  • What makes it worse or better?

  • Do you have a lot of stress or anxiety in your life?

  • When did this start, what was going on in your life just before, or at the time of the first onset?

  • Have you had any illnesses or surgeries?

We will also ask you questions about family, relationships, environment, and your emotional health.

If they can’t find anything wrong, how can my chronic symptoms be treated?

The best treatment plans use a variety of strategies, including medications, lifestyle changes and therapies. If you have chronic pain plus depression and/or anxiety, it’s important to seek treatment for your mental health condition(s) as well. Having depression or anxiety can make your chronic pain worse. For example, if you have depression the fatigue, sleep changes and decreased activity it often causes can make your chronic pain worse.

Can lifestyle changes help with chronic pain?

Four major lifestyle factors can affect your chronic pain and help minimize it. Healthcare providers sometimes call them the four pillars of chronic pain. They include:

  • Stress: Stress can play a major role in chronic pain, so it’s important to try to reduce your stress as much as possible. Everyone has different techniques for managing their stress, but some techniques include meditation, mindfulness, and deep breathing. Try different options until you find what works best for you.

  • Exercise: Participating in low-intensity exercises, such as walking or light swimming for 30 minutes every day may help reduce your pain. Exercise can also be a stress reliever for some people, which is important to manage when you have chronic pain.

  • Diet: It is important to eat a healthy diet to boost your overall health. Your healthcare provider may suggest trying an anti-inflammatory diet by eliminating foods that cause inflammation, such as red meat and refined carbohydrates.

  • Sleep: Getting enough quality sleep is important for your overall health. A lack of sleep can cause you to gain weight, which could make your chronic pain worse. Getting quality sleep is also important for stress management.

Tips on coping with chronic pain

  • Manage your stress. Emotional and physical pain are closely related, and persistent pain can lead to increased levels of stress.

  • Talk to yourself constructively. Positive thinking is a powerful tool.

  • Become active and engaged.

  • Find support.

Consult a professional - Besides taking medications, getting therapy, and making lifestyle changes, take good care of yourself and practise self-care. The following actions can help you cope with your chronic pain, and improve your overall health:

  • Avoid smoking

  • Don’t try to do too much. Create a daily schedule that includes a few priorities and time for rest and self-care

  • Eat a healthy diet

  • Exercise regularly

  • Get enough sleep

  • Manage your stress

  • Join a support group for chronic pain to learn from other people with similar conditions (just be aware that not all support groups are supportive, so check them out before making a commitment)

  • Limit alcohol, which can cause more problems with sleep and pain

  • Try to think positively

  • Remember to breathe

Researchers continue to study pain disorders. Advances in neuroscience and a better understanding of the human body all lead to more effective treatments.

Here are a couple of links to research papers that show the innovations in pain management:

Mind-body videos and podcasts that can help:

If you have chronic pain and depression and/or anxiety, it’s important to seek treatment. Untreated depression and anxiety can make your pain worse, and further lower your quality of life. Recovery is possible, and the most important step is finding the ‘Why’ behind your own symptoms, and what you can do about them.

If this resonates with you, please do contact us today and book in for a Discovery Call to speak to one of our experienced practitioners, who have all have their own recovery journey stories. We really do understand where you are at, and bring both our lived and learnt experience to discover what can be done to help you.

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