Home Health Chronic Pain

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is pain that lasts for longer than six months. It can interfere with normal activities and may negatively impact your quality of life. Possible causes include health conditions, injuries and faulty medical devices. Chronic pain management may include medications, alternative treatments and mind-body therapies.

Last Modified: June 6, 2024
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What Is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is pain that persists for six months or longer or accompanies an underlying health condition. It may be constant or intermittent, depending on the cause. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2021 approximately 20.9% of U.S. adults experienced chronic pain and an additional 6.9% experienced high-impact chronic pain.

Chronic pain symptoms can affect both physical and mental health. It may cause some individuals to reduce or restrict activities. There is a direct association between the condition and fatigue, depression and substance abuse. Patients can take steps to reduce the impact of these symptoms.

Man with pain in his arm

Causes of Chronic Pain

There are two broad categories for the causes of chronic pain: health conditions and medical devices. The type of pain patients develop depends largely on its cause.

Health conditions that frequently contribute to chronic pain include arthritis, cancer, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, migraines and nerve damage. Some medical treatments, including chemotherapy and surgery, can also cause long-term pain.

Fact Box
Approximately 20.9% of U.S. adults experienced chronic pain and 6.9% more experienced high-impact chronic pain in 2021.

Many patients who experience an acute injury later develop chronic pain. This can be from improper healing or nerve damage at the injury site. Some patients develop chronic pain with no detectable physiological causes.

Medical devices are also associated with chronic pain. This can be due to device failure, improper healing after insertion or site trauma. Problems with long-term pain are common with many types of joint replacements and mesh implant products.

How chronic pain affects different parts of the body
Chronic pain can affect all areas of the body and be caused by various reasons, including health conditions and medical devices.

Devices Known To Cause Chronic Pain

Joint replacements are common procedures, with the American College of Rheumatology reporting Americans undergoing approximately 790,000 knee replacements and 544,000 hip replacements each year. Despite their prevalence, joint replacement is a common cause of chronic pain.

Some patients experience postoperative pain that never dissipates, and others incur nerve damage during the procedure. Many patients affected by faulty hip replacements secured compensation through legal settlements. There are active hip replacement lawsuits seeking to hold manufacturers accountable for faulty products.

Hernia mesh and transvaginal mesh are implant devices with a history of complications including chronic pain. According to a study published in the Journal of Pain Research, up to 16% of patients who undergo inguinal hernia repair experience chronic postoperative pain.

Manufacturers have recalled several types of hernia mesh products because of device failures. As of May 2024, four major multidistrict litigations representing nearly 26,000 hernia mesh lawsuits seek compensation on behalf of affected patients.

The FDA has not mandated a recall of transvaginal mesh products, but there is ongoing litigation over some devices with a high failure rate. Courts have widely recognized manufacturers’ failure to disclose risks, with a 2023 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding a $302 million judgment against Johnson & Johnson for concealing the risks of its mesh products. Patients who have complications related to this type of implant may consider an attorney consultation concerning possible transvaginal mesh lawsuits.

Inferior vena cava (IVC) filters are another common cause of postoperative pain. IVC filters work to prevent pulmonary embolisms and blood clots in the lungs. There are active IVC filter lawsuits on behalf of patients who experienced pain and other complications after receiving these devices.

Diseases and Conditions That Cause Chronic Pain

Various medical conditions can cause chronic pain. For example, chronic pain is a defining symptom of arthritis, cancer, fibromyalgia and migraines.

An injury can lead to nociceptive pain, which is caused by activated pain receptors in the body. These receptors normally deactivate once an injury heals. If they do not deactivate and instead remain active, individuals may experience pain long after injury recovery.

Other people may experience pain from physiological processes related to their health condition. For example, diabetes often causes neuropathy, a type of neuropathic pain, which can result in persistent pain.

Mental illness is also closely associated with pain. In addition to being a cause, mental health conditions can also be a symptom and can worsen with prolonged pain.

Woman with lower back pain

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Chronic Pain

People experience chronic pain symptoms differently depending on its causes, location in the body and other co-occurring health conditions. Someone with pain from a medical device will likely feel pain in the affected area, while someone with neuropathy may feel more spread-out pain.

Chronic Pain Symptoms
  • Burning, dull, throbbing or tingling pain
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood changes

By definition, chronic pain symptoms occur for at least six months. The symptoms are not always constant or at a consistent intensity. Some people experience intermittent pain instead. Additionally, symptoms such as depression, anxiety and mood changes can reinforce pain, resulting in a cycle.

Pain management is possible, so if you experience chronic pain symptoms, consider getting a chronic pain diagnosis as soon as possible. This typically involves a consultation with a medical provider who will order tests to establish the cause of your pain.

Doctor showing a woman an x-ray of her spine

Managing Chronic Pain Effectively

Maintaining overall mental and physical health is important for managing chronic pain. Strategies include medications, lifestyle changes, mind-body therapies and behavioral treatments.

Pharmacological interventions are common in pain management. Many patients rely on over-the-counter options such as acetaminophen, NSAIDs and topical pain creams. Doctors frequently prescribe opioids, muscle relaxers, anticonvulsants and corticosteroids for pain. Sedatives and antidepressants can help relieve symptoms such as insomnia and depression.

Lifestyle changes may involve establishing an appropriate exercise routine, applying heat and cold and eating a balanced diet. Complementary treatments, such as acupuncture and massage, are often helpful in addressing chronic pain symptoms.

Patients who experience emotional symptoms can benefit from psychological support. Cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling and fear-avoidance training are all potential strategies for chronic pain management.

The right treatment for each patient must address their symptoms and underlying causes. A complete chronic pain treatment plan will differ from one person to the next.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.