Is My Chronic Pain Really Forever?
Let’s break down what it means to have chronic pain.
Posted April 28, 2022 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
- The intensity and frequency of pain flares are unique to each person.
- Pain is equal parts mind and body.
- It can help to become proactive about how you can limit the pain's interference in your life.
A question often goes through the minds of those living with a condition known as chronic pain. Is this going to last forever?
What is chronic pain?
Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts longer than three months. That pain is either persistent or recurrent. This is in contrast to acute pain, which is experienced immediately following tissue damage and usually resolves by three months through rest and activity restriction. But sometimes acute pain turns into chronic pain, and continues to cause discomfort and interfere with activities long after three months.
How long does chronic pain last?
For some, chronic pain lasts years. For others, the pain may be present for a year and gradually lessens. The intensity of the pain also varies depending on the person, their condition, and a whole host of other factors that play a part in experiencing pain. Some people may experience constant, daily pain, while others have pain that occurs intermittently. What does everyone living with chronic pain have in common? The pain is variable. Pain ebbs and flows. The intensity and frequency of pain flares are unique to each person.
Why does pain vary so much?
Because pain is a condition influenced by factors that are biological, psychological, social, and environmental. It means our physical conditioning plays a part—how strong our muscles are, underlying biologic and genetic factors, our body weight and nutrition, hydration, and much more. Even other health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, can play a role.
Pain is equal parts mind and body. That means how we think about pain and react to pain impacts how intense the physical sensations feel. It also helps us understand why pain feels worse when we feel stressed. The body reacts to mental processes, including increased muscle tension, when experiencing stress.
The environment around us also plays a big part. This includes the people we associate with, the weather, job situations, income, and other personal stressors. Pain is considered a bio-psycho-social-spiritual experience, and every part of your life plays a part in how you experience the pain.
What can a person with chronic pain expect?
You cannot expect to simply rest and wait to heal. Your doctors probably explained that the window for quick recovery passed, and maybe they even recommended you start exercising. This probably seems impossible. Of course, you would be more active if the pain was not getting in the way. So, what options remain? The best option is to become proactive about what you can do. Start small and focus on today. The reality is neither you nor your doctor knows exactly how your condition will change. It could improve, it could be stable, or it could worsen. Usually, there is room to improve how much the pain interferes with one's life. What is known is that how you take care of your health makes a big difference.
If you are reading this, you probably already have a list of ideas of how you could improve your overall health. This is likely the best place to start. Start with the change that sounds easy. Once you have some momentum, you can build on top of it. Maybe for today, it’s stretching for 10 minutes and repeating it tomorrow. For advice, talk to any of your health care providers. Chronic pain does not always mean forever.
Murphy, J., & Rafie, S. (2021). Chronic Pain and Opioid Management: Strategies for Integrated Treatment. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.