Chronic PainWhat Causes Chronic Pain?

What Causes Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is extremely prevalent throughout the world. Millions of people in the United States suffer from different types of chronic pain each and every day. In fact, chronic pain is one of the number one reasons why a person seeks medical attention. But what causes chronic pain? And can it be treated?

Finding the answer to the question, “What causes chronic pain?” isn’t all that simple. The fact of the matter is that chronic pain is a national issue, and one that is complex and incredibly unique to each person who experiences it. That said, here are just five of the many causes of chronic pain you might be surprised to learn about.

5 Causes of Chronic Pain

1. Autoimmune Disorders

An autoimmune disorder occurs when the body detects something that is typically considered “normal” or not harmful as a foreign, dangerous object. Usually, when something harmful enters the body, like a virus, it’s the job of the immune system to attack that thing as a defense mechanism. However, when somebody has an autoimmune disorder, the immune system is in hyperdrive. This means that it attacks itself, causing damage in the process.

As a result, people with autoimmune disorders often experience chronic pain as a side effect. This pain can be throughout the body and, depending on the type of autoimmune disorder, cause aches and pains in the head, stomach, and throughout the joints of the body.

Some common autoimmune disorders include:

2. Genetic Conditions

Similar to the list above, certain genetic conditions are also known to cause chronic pain. Autoimmune disorders are not the only diseases that can be passed down from one generation to the next. Certain connective tissue disorders, neurological disorders, and muscular-skeletal disorders are also hereditary and cause widespread pain.

As with any condition that causes chronic pain, each case is unique. With so many people experiencing chronic pain throughout the country, this can make it challenging to diagnose and therefore treat these genetic conditions, even if family members have a long history of symptoms. Keeping track of your own symptoms and speaking with your loved ones about any pain they have encountered can help in the process of understanding a little bit more when it comes to chronic pain.

3. Injury or Illness

Typically, an injury or illness does not result in chronic, long-lasting pain. In standard cases, injuries and illnesses often cause acute pain that can be resolved with different types of treatment. Many times, this pain is very intense during this period but it doesn’t come back and doesn’t continue indefinitely, as chronic pain might.

However, there are always exceptions to this. Some forms of injury or illness can result in long-lasting chronic pain. A back injury, for example, can lead to detrimental and recurring pain. Another example would be people who have had concussions. Studies show that, out of a group of women who had concussions, as many as half of them went on to develop chronic pain throughout their body because of this injury.

Additionally, certain severe illnesses can permanently change the body’s functionality in some instances. Early research is showing that some people who had COVID-19 in the past are now experiencing chronic pain as one of the long-lasting symptoms. This could be because of the permanent damage that the virus caused to the body’s nervous, respiratory, and muscular systems.

4. Mental Health Disorders

Mental Health DisordersWhen we wonder about what causes chronic pain, we usually think about physical ailments. But these are not the only conditions that can cause chronic pain. In fact, mental health disorders can cause recurring headaches, stomach pains, body aches, joint soreness, and more.

Depression is a mental health condition that impacts approximately 5 percent of all adults in the United States. One of the major signs and symptoms of depression includes achy joints, stiffness, and recurring physical pain. This shows that one’s physical health is directly linked to their mental health—without the right approach for one, both might suffer as a result.

On the flip side of this, chronic pain can also exacerbate mental health conditions. Studies indicate that people with chronic pain are 4 times as likely to have anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms as a result of their experiences with pain. Facts like these emphasize the importance of getting mental health assistance, especially when chronic pain is a factor.

5. Unknown Causes

This answer to the question, “What causes chronic pain?” doesn’t necessarily get to the root of the problem—rather, it leaves us with more questions. Unfortunately for so many people with chronic pain, the exact cause is often unknown. This is the frustrating reality for countless people who are just trying to function in spite of the pain.

Chronic pain is usually invisible, meaning that others cannot see it just from taking a glance at the outside. Not only can this make it challenging for others who do not have chronic pain to understand what it’s like to live with discomfort day in and day out, but it also can make it difficult for patients to find the right type of health care.

Furthermore, many conditions that cause chronic pain, like the ones mentioned above, don’t always present on traditional tests like x-rays or MRIs. For example, fibromyalgia is a condition that causes widespread, chronic pain in multiple areas of the body. But this isn’t something that can be detected easily. Instead, medical professionals rely on other criteria, such as looking at how long certain symptoms last, in order to reach a diagnosis.

For those who do not have a diagnosis, there can be substantial treatment barriers. It’s important to remember that if you are experiencing chronic pain but your medical team hasn’t quite figured out the cause yet, you are not alone, and you are not without hope. Joining chronic pain advocacy groups can be a great resource in helping you find your voice and find your way toward better pain management.

How to Reduce Your Chronic Pain

How to Reduce Your Chronic PainAgain, finding the right type of pain management goes on a case-by-case basis, as everyone experiences pain differently. Plus, the treatment approaches to chronic pain are always changing. However, there are some tried and true methods that work for many people with chronic pain. Regardless of the cause, some pain management techniques include:

  • Medication management
  • Physical therapy
  • Yoga
  • Special diet
  • Using mobility devices
  • Getting work accommodations
  • Alternative therapies
  • Finding mental health support
  • Joining chronic pain communities

The ultimate goal for many people with chronic pain is to find a way to function and hopefully thrive, even if there is no perfect answer to the question, “What causes chronic pain?” Most importantly, if you are somebody who lives with chronic pain, know that you are not the only one. The Pain Resource Chronic Pain Community is a network of people who understand the reality of living with chronic pain. Share the reasons behind your chronic pain to get support and find new ways of coping with these long-lasting symptoms.

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  1. The Mental Health aspect of this is one that is very underrated. I had a relative with Alzheimer’s, and she seemed to be in constant pain. The doctors said it was “phantom pain”, but how could they really be sure? Seems like the possibility of another case of “its in your head”?

  2. We cannot underestimate the mental health disorders. I recall a relative with Alzheimers who seeme to be in constant pain. While the doctors said it was “phantom” pain, do we really know? This seems related to pain of unknown causes – without that knowledge it can be so hard to treat.

  3. My chronic pain is caused by ME/CFS. I also have Fibromyalgia. Both of these cause multiple types of pain, but my main issue is joint pain. I treat it mainly with medication, PT, and mobility devices – I use a cane all the time, and a wheelchair for long distances. No one is quite sure what causes either of these two conditions, but I’m able to keep the pain mostly under control.

      • It took a long time to figure out the right treatment/combination of pills and dosages of them. Some of it’s been a matter of luck too. Picking up the cane, for example, was something I discovered on my own that seemed to be helpful; no doctor recommended it. We had a wheelchair sitting around after an elderly aunt died and using it when I got fatigued was a natural next step. That kind of thing. Communities like this and on Twitter have helped after the fact to discover more like how mental health can affect physical health. Some of the other comments on this article have been really fascinating.


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