What is Chronic Pain: A Complete Guide

business woman at home holding neck in agony to illustrate suffering chronic pain
Medically Reviewed
September 18, 2023

Have you ever had a pain that just won’t quit? At first, you think, “It’ll get better in a few days.” But when it doesn’t, you start to understand what it’s like to live with chronic pain, a condition that affects a quarter of Americans and can be a real problem for quality of life.

But it doesn’t have to be like that for people with chronic pain. There are ways to treat your chronic pain, help you get the sleep you need, and let you enjoy life again.

In today’s ultimate guide to chronic pain, we’ll cover types, causes, diagnoses – and practical strategies for pain management, so you can even find ways of coping when total healing is not possible.

Acute Pain vs. Chronic Pain

Types of Chronic Pain

Diagnosis: Finding the Causes of Chronic Pain

Relief from Chronic Pain with Integrative Medicine

Acute Pain vs. Chronic Pain

male runner stopping to feel an acute pain in his legSo, what is chronic pain? Let’s start by understanding the difference between acute and chronic pain.

Acute Pain: The Flash in the Pan

Acute pain is the kind that usually makes sense. You get a paper cut, and it stings. You receive a bruise and it hurts. A broken bone heals eventually. This type of pain has a clear cause and typically doesn’t last long. It’s your body’s way of saying, “Hey, something’s not right.”

Acute pain can feel like a lightning bolt – sharp, intense, and sudden. But here’s the good news: It often goes away as your body heals. So, a sprained ankle or a pulled muscle might bug you for a few days or weeks, but recovery follows.

Unfortunately, chronic pain is a whole new story…

Chronic Pain: The Nagging Neighbor

Chronic pain makes your daily life miserable and sticks around for the long haul. Any type of chronic pain can stem from various causes – arthritis, nerve damage, past injuries that didn’t heal quite right, or even conditions like fibromyalgia. The problem with chronic pain is it doesn’t always have an obvious source.

Deciding if it’s chronic pain

Why is “more than three-months” a significant marker for people with chronic pain?

If you’ve had pain for over three months, it’s no longer just your body’s way of saying, “Hey, something’s not right.” It’s your body shouting, “We’ve got a problem here, and it’s not going away on its own!”

So – if your pain doesn’t go away after three months, your pain is no longer acute but chronic. And if you develop chronic pain over three months, you require pain management, and an integrative and multidisciplinary approach to addressing it.

The reason is that chronic pain starts to affect your physical and mental wellbeing. It can mess with your sleep, mood, and daily activities.

And if you wait too long to reach out for help, you can end up with complications and further pain disorders, making pain management even harder.

So, when it comes to chronic pain, seek medical care to

  • help you determine what’s causing the pain and
  • develop an individualized treatment plan.

You might need tests, customized therapy, medications, or specialist referrals. Whatever the path, it starts with that first step – reaching out for help.

But first, let’s deep dive into chronic pain, understanding its different types and causes.

Types of Chronic Pain

mature woman feeling back to illustrate chronic pain problemChronic pain isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. People with chronic pain know this is true. You know something is wrong, but understanding what’s causing it is another story, although certain health conditions can be prime suspects!

So, let’s check the different types of chronic pain and demystify them.

1 Neuropathic Pain

Imagine your spinal cord: The spinal nerves act as tiny electrical wires sending electrical signals and nerve impulses to your brain whenever you receive a physical stimulus.

Now, picture them sending mixed-up signals, making you feel pain when there’s no physical injury. That’s neuropathic pain. It’s nearly always caused by other health problems and causes you to feel pain in your nerves for more extended periods and at a higher intensity.

Common conditions causing neuropathic pain include diabetes, injuries, imbalances and dysfunctions within the body, and diseases like shingles. The hallmarks are numbness, tingling, and shooting pain.

2 Musculoskeletal Pain

This physical pain affects your muscles, bones, and joints.

Arthritis, upper and lower back issues, or an old injury can be the underlying cause for this persistent, nagging discomfort. Muscle tension can also be at fault, from habitual poor working practices such as desk posture.

3 Inflammatory Pain

Inflammation is like your body’s fire alarm. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease trigger this kind of inflammatory pain. It usually comes with swelling and redness and can be hot and throbbing, like a persistent sunburn.

Other symptoms of this kind of chronic pain might include loss of function due to tissue damage at the site of the inflammation.

4 Psychogenic Pain

Sometimes, pain is more than just physical. It’s a mind-body connection. This makes it something of a controversial topic for treatment methods.

That’s because your mind can influence how you perceive pain – and vice-versa. All messages go through your spinal cord, and your brain and spinal cord are closely linked!

So – stress, anxiety, and depression in your brain can crank up the volume of your pain signals. And, in reverse, your ongoing pain can cause depression and anxiety in your brain.

You can blame your central nervous system! But because of the cyclical nature of psychogenic pain, it’s slightly harder to sort out an obvious “first cause” of your chronic pain.

5 Mixed-Type Pain

woman holding wrist to illustrate mixed type of pain like carpal tunnel syndromeIn addition, sometimes chronic pain is a blend of neuropathic, musculoskeletal, or inflammatory elements.

You might have musculoskeletal arthritis pain, but you develop mixed-type chronic pain as it starts affecting your nerves, making you feel extra sore and giving you endless and intense migraines.

This is when an integrative and personalized precision medicine approach really helps with pain that’s considered chronic.

Now that you know the types of chronic pain, what’s the best strategy to deal with it?

As we said before, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to chronic pain.

But understanding the type of chronic pain you’re dealing with is the first step toward finding the right strategies for medical management. Whether it’s neuropathic, musculoskeletal, inflammatory, psychogenic, or a hybrid, there’s hope and help out there.

And even if you can’t completely heal from it, there are effective pain management strategies to help you live a healthier life. Talk to your healthcare provider to start the journey toward relief and recovery.

Let’s talk about diagnosis next.

Diagnosis: Finding the Causes of Chronic Pain

girl at doctor's seeking diagnosis of chronic painDiagnosing chronic pain isn’t always a walk in the park. When you experience chronic pain, the cause could be

  • injuries,
  • inflammation,
  • genetics, or even
  • how your brain processes pain signals.

So we’ll look at how we diagnose chronic pain from the perspective of integrative medicine – which starts by identifying the root causes of your pain.

The Importance of Targeting Root Causes

If you live with chronic pain and have – unsuccessfully – tried every single pain medicine or magical recipe (including exercise) to find relief, we feel you.

But just like you call a roofer to fix the source of a leaky roof, the same goes for chronic pain. Instead of simply using sleeping pills or painkillers to mask your discomfort temporarily, most people find it’s best to target what’s causing it.

That means knowing what’s causing your chronic pain, which helps us create a personalized pain management strategy for you.

Here are some steps towards diagnosis of chronic pain.

Step 1: The Medical Evaluation

Your journey to diagnosis often starts with a chat with your healthcare provider. They’ll ask about your pain – when it began, where it hurts, and how it feels (they’ll usually ask you to classify the intensity of your pain on a scale from 0 to 10). They’ll also dig into your medical history and any previous injury or conditions.

Step 2: Physical Exams and Tests

Next, it’s time for the physical exam. Your healthcare provider might press on specific areas, check your range of motion, and look for signs like swelling or redness. They might order tests like X-rays, MRIs, or blood work. These tests help rule out underlying issues and pinpoint possible causes.

Step 3: Specialized Diagnostics

In some cases, you might need specialized tests. For example, nerve conduction studies or electromyography (EMG) can help diagnose neuropathic pain. Sometimes, you might even meet with pain specialists or neurologists for a more in-depth assessment.

Relief from Chronic Pain with Integrative Medicine

doctor making diagnosis before providing integrative treatment for chronic pain issuesAfter identifying the root causes of your pain, it’s time to adopt a comprehensive pain management strategy to relieve pain. The aim is to relieve, treat, or manage the pain with a multidisciplinary approach, considering your body as an interconnected whole.

Your personalized health plan from an integrative medicine specialist will combine different approaches to target the physical aspects of your chronic pain and also your mental and emotional wellbeing.

That’s because managing chronic pain effectively goes way beyond painkillers. Instead, it may include a comprehensive medical treatment with

  • therapy,
  • medications,
  • lifestyle adjustments, and
  • relaxation techniques.

Together, these will help you live with less pain and more comfort.

Here are some ways to cope with persistent and chronic pain and find some relief.

1. Mind Over Matter

Living with chronic pain is challenging, but your mind and emotions play a significant role in chronic pain.

Negative thoughts, stress, anxiety, and depression can amplify pain signals.

So, addressing your mental health and the mind-body connection should be a crucial part of your personalized strategy to treat chronic pain.

Being positive is hard! But it allows you to accept the fact of chronic pain, adapt your lifestyle, control what you can, and set realistic goals. Joining a support group can help.

For example, stress management techniques like mindfulness, deep breathing, and relaxation can help you take control of your pain and turn down the volume knob on your pain signals. Start trying one of the following to see if you notice any improvements in the way you feel:

  • Meditation and mindfulness: These techniques help you focus on the present moment and train your mind to handle persistent pain more effectively.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Think of this as therapy for your thoughts. CBT helps you reframe how you think about pain and teaches you coping strategies. It’s like upgrading your mental toolbox.

2. Food for Thought

foods in an anti-inflammatory diet for treating chronic painWhat you eat can either fuel or fight inflammation somewhere in your body – inflammation is often a culprit in chronic pain.

Integrative medicine via a functional nutritionist can help you adjust your eating habits to reduce pain, avoiding foods that make your pain worse. This healthy-diet approach includes the following:

  • Anti-Inflammatory diet: This is like your secret weapon against inflammation. It’s all about choosing foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats, while avoiding sugary, processed stuff. Ultra-processed foods are known to cause inflammation.
  • Supplements: Sometimes, you need a little extra help. Supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, turmeric, and ginger can all help reduce pain.

3. Exercise Sensibly

Exercise might sound like the last thing you want to do when you’re in pain, but it’s a game-changer if you respect your limits.

If you live with chronic pain, you may make your pain worse if you do too much exercise on days when you feel you can. Be cautious.

However, if the idea of exercising while in pain scares you, don’t think of running but instead practice low-impact movements, which may include the following:

  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapists can tailor exercise to your needs so you build strength and flexibility without making the pain worse. In addition, occupational therapy may help you perform certain tasks with less pain.
  • Yoga and Tai Chi: Gentle, low-impact exercises help improve your overall wellbeing while reducing pain.

4. Customized Therapies

Your healthcare provider or doctor may recommend customized therapies to relieve your pain and improve your health conditions. Some proven effective therapies for chronic pain include the following:

  • Acupuncture: Tiny needles might sound intimidating, but this Traditional Chinese Medicine practice can help unblock energy pathways, ease pain, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, digestive disorders, and more. It’s like pressing the reset button for your health.
  • Chiropractic care: If you have musculoskeletal pain, a chiropractor can work wonders by adjusting your spine and joints. Think of it as a little tune-up for your body.

5. Medication When Needed

doctor handing out pills for when medication is needed for chronic pain treatmentSometimes, medications are part of the solution for managing pain that your doctor might advise. But don’t rely exclusively on painkillers to manage your chronic pain, because even over-the-counter drugs may have serious side effects or cause addiction.

  • Pain Medications: Non-opioid options like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or muscle relaxants can help manage pain by blocking pain signals without the risk of addiction. Healthcare providers can help you manage these medications sensibly.

Managing Chronic Pain with Strategies and Support at Nava Health

At Nava Health, we don’t expect you to battle chronic pain and pain management on your own. Chronic pain is not the end of the road! We combine excellence in integrative medicine with cutting-edge technology, like Equiscope therapy, to help you overcome your pain and start living your best life today.

Our team of expert practitioners will use their knowledge and support to unmask the real cause of your pain so you finally stop living with chronic pain. Schedule a consultation and discover a pain-free life today!

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Article Name
What is Chronic Pain: A Complete Guide
Chronic pain isn't a life sentence. Learn possible root causes, types, and how to best relieve it with a personalized integrative plan!