Chronic Pain Syndrome
What is chronic pain syndrome?
Chronic pain can feel like slow torture, making it difficult for you to go to work, exercise, or even take a shower and dress yourself.
If your pain is out of control, it can also take an emotional toll on you, undermining your self-esteem and coloring your outlook.
Sometimes pain evolves into a poorly understood condition known as chronic pain syndrome. Unlike acute pain, this condition doesn't go away after your initial injury or illness has healed. It's marked by pain that lasts longer than six months and is often accompanied by anger and depression, anxiety, loss of sexual desire, and disability.
What causes chronic pain syndrome?
Chronic pain syndrome may occur along with conditions that involve long-term pain, including certain cancers, stroke, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Experts don't yet understand how or even if these conditions are related.
Contrary to some opinion, research suggests that psychological problems alone are not behind chronic pain syndrome. Rather, the syndrome appears to be linked to abnormalities in the interaction between certain glands – the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands – and the nervous system, known as a type of stress axis. The abnormalities seen in this stress axis, which controls our reactions to stress, injury, and trauma, may explain why certain people experience pain differently.
Studies have also found that people who suffer from chronic pain have abnormally low levels of endorphins in their spinal fluid. Endorphins are chemicals in the body that help to naturally control pain.
What are the symptoms of chronic pain syndrome?
Symptoms vary from person to person, but may include any or a combination of:
- Low back pain
- Joint pain
- Muscle aches
- Burning or tingling pain in different parts of the body
- Jolts of sharp pain
How is chronic pain syndrome diagnosed?
The diagnosis of chronic pain syndrome is made after a thorough history and physical has been performed by your health care provider. The crucial characteristic of chronic pain syndrome is that the pain has lasted longer than six months and the person continues to be dependent on pain medication for pain control.
How is chronic pain syndrome treated?
Medications aren't the only way to manage chronic pain, and they typically don't work when used alone. In most cases, you can better manage chronic pain syndrome with a combination of different therapies to reduce both pain and stress.
These are possible treatment options:
- Behavior modification, such as cognitive behavioral therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Physical therapy
- Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, visual imagery, or deep breathing
- Medications to help control pain, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and opioids
- Nerve blocks
- Surgery to treat any underlying conditions
Living with chronic pain syndrome
Lifestyle changes are often used to ease chronic pain, as well as physical and mental health problems that may come with it. Managing stress, for example, may help control your pain by improving your mood.
These are other ideas:
- Get regular, low-impact exercise, such as walking, cycling, swimming, or yoga.
- Get plenty of sleep on a consistent schedule.
- Avoid napping during the day.
- Quit smoking, if you smoke.
Getting up and moving around is one of the most important things you can do because not moving can result in additional pain and disability.
Although treatment and lifestyle changes can help reduce pain and allow you to resume many of your daily activities, these therapies often can't rid you of pain entirely. Working with your doctor to determine the appropriate treatment plan can help get your pain to a level that is bearable.
Chronic pain syndrome is marked by pain that lasts longer than six months.
Chronic pain syndrome may occur along with conditions that involve long-term pain, including certain cancers, stroke, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, and inflammatory bowel disease. The syndrome appears to be linked to abnormalities in the interaction between certain glands – the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands – and the nervous system, known as a type of stress axis.
You can better manage chronic pain syndrome with a combination of different therapies to reduce both pain and stress.
Lifestyle changes are often used to ease chronic pain, as well as physical and mental health problems that may come with it. Working with your doctor to determine the appropriate treatment plan can help get your pain to a bearable level.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
- At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
Online Medical Reviewer:
Marcellin, Lindsey, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer:
Walton, Olivia, MS, PA-C
Date Last Reviewed:
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