About Long Term Chronic Pain: Causes

Many medical conditions or injuries can cause chronic pain. Some people will continue to experience pain long after recovering from an initial injury such as a back injury. Other chronic pain is caused by chronic diseases such as arthritis or cancer. Some people have pain that does not have an identifiable cause. This is not to say that the pain is not real. Whatever the cause, chronic pain is real, and should be treated.

The following conditions may be associated with chronic pain:

  • cancer
  • fibromyalgia
  • spinal injury
  • headaches
  • back injury
  • arthritis

Sometimes pain can be felt in a part of the body that is no longer there. This is called phantom limb pain, and develops as a result of amputation. When pain in one part of the body is felt in another part of the body, it is called referred pain.

Pain results when a disease or injury sends a signal to special sensory nerve endings called nociceptors. Nociceptors are located in the skin, as well as in other structures including blood vessels and tendons. The internal organs are not very responsive to pain. Pain signals travel from the nociceptors, through the sensory nerves, and up the spinal cord to the thalamus in the brain. The signal is then sent to the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that processes thought. On the way to the brain, natural body chemicals can change the pain signal. Substance P makes the pain signal stronger. Endorphins make it weaker. Pain is not actually felt until the message or signals get to the brain.

The cerebral cortex and the limbic system, which are the brain areas controlling emotion, process pain signals. How much pain is felt depends on a number of factors. Factors that increase how badly pain is felt include the following:

  • previous bad experiences with pain
  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • depression

Anxiety can make pain much worse. Not knowing the cause of pain makes people anxious. The pain seems less severe once they have a diagnosis of their medical condition. Worry about the seriousness of their condition can also make pain appear worse than it is.

Learn more about Pain Management