What is Chronic Pain?

For many people, pain serves a specific purpose, acting as the body’s alarm to signal danger or direct harm. For many more people however, pain serves no purpose. These individuals suffer from lingering pain almost every day, which prevents them from living productive lives and being their best selves.

Their experience is one in which they are ruled by their pain.

According to a report by the Institute of Medicine approximately 100 million people, or 40% of the U.S. adult population, experiences pain lasting for days, weeks, or even months.

That is chronic pain.

Chronic Pain vs. Acute Pain

The medical community differentiates between acute and chronic pain.

Acute pain is provoked by a specific disease or injury, and it serves a useful biologic purpose, namely a warning that the injury or disease needs to be addressed. A skeletal muscle spasm occurs and the sympathetic nervous system is activated. This alert state will gradually reduce, so that an acute pain episode is self-limited in duration.

Chronic pain, in contrast, may be considered a disease state. It is pain that outlasts the normal time of healing, if associated with a disease or injury.

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) provides a widely used definition of chronic pain that takes into account duration and “appropriateness.” Here, chronic pain is  defined as pain without apparent biological value that has persisted beyond the normal tissue healing time. Chronic pain has no identifiable end-point. Chronic pain is real.

Seeking Help

Always start with your primary care physician for an initial evaluation. When you consult with your doctor, be as specific as possible about your pain.

The following are some helpful hints:

  • Describe the location of your pain.
  • Familiarize yourself with the pain scale:

  • Explain the duration of your pain

Use descriptive terminology:

  • sharp/stabbing
  • dull
  • burning
  • sensitive
  • tender
  • shooting
  • stinging
  • numb
  • tingling
  • cramping
  • spreading
  • gnawing
  • throbbing

If needed, further evaluation and treatment will be discussed, and you may be referred to a specialist. Many factors play a role in selecting referrals and treatment options, for example the type of pain, underlying causes and/or illnesses.

Overall, the medical community has become quite receptive to a more holistic approach in treating pain, at times mixing and matching treatments, and/or recommending a conservative plan of action.

In addition to conventional medical treatments that involve drugs, injections and surgery, there is physical therapy, medical exercise, therapeutic massage, acupuncture, hypnosis and other so-called CAM (complementary and alternative medicine).

Of note is, that many health insurance policies will not cover CAM therapies. Some insurers may cover at least a limited number of visits. You may want to inquire with your individual health insurance carrier ahead of time, so that you will be well equipped to discuss an appropriate plan of treatment with your primary care physician.

Seeking Help

Always start with your primary care physician for an initial evaluation. When you consult with your doctor, be as specific as possible about your pain.

The following are some helpful hints:

  • Describe the location of your pain.
  • Familiarize yourself with the pain scale:

  • Explain the duration of your pain

Use descriptive terminology:

  • sharp/stabbing
  • dull
  • burning
  • sensitive
  • tender
  • shooting
  • stinging
  • numb
  • tingling
  • cramping
  • spreading
  • gnawing
  • throbbing

If needed, further evaluation and treatment will be discussed, and you may be referred to a specialist. Many factors play a role in selecting referrals and treatment options, for example the type of pain, underlying causes and/or illnesses.

Overall, the medical community has become quite receptive to a more holistic approach in treating pain, at times mixing and matching treatments, and/or recommending a conservative plan of action.

In addition to conventional medical treatments that involve drugs, injections and surgery, there is physical therapy, medical exercise, therapeutic massage, acupuncture, hypnosis and other so-called CAM (complementary and alternative medicine).

Of note is, that many health insurance policies will not cover CAM therapies. Some insurers may cover at least a limited number of visits. You may want to inquire with your individual health insurance carrier ahead of time, so that you will be well equipped to discuss an appropriate plan of treatment with your primary care physician.


About the Author


Karin Meessen, Fitness Director & Personal Trainer

Certified Personal Trainer and Senior Fitness Specialist by National Academy of Sports Medicine, Medical Exercise Specialist

Karin has been a long-time health and fitness enthusiast. She knows what it takes to go the distance, having completed two NYC marathons and numerous long-distance, multiple-day road cycling events.

She believes strongly in the connection between mind and body to promote overall well-being. Pairing an emphasis on balance and stability, with development of core strength; Karin helps her clients to improve all areas of their lives, through safe and enjoyable workouts.

“I became a personal trainer to help people create lasting changes in their lives. Seeing a client discover the emotional, mental, and physical strength derived from exercise, is extremely exciting and rewarding.”

Come in for a free fitness assessment!

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