Common Causes of Chronic Pain

Millions of people in the United States suffer from chronic pain.  Sometimes chronic pain is the result of an old injury that healed, but the nerves are still sending pain impulses to the brain.  This can even be the result of a long-healed infection or surgery.  On the other hand, some chronic pain has no apparent cause, which can be endlessly frustrating for both the doctor and the patient suffering from the pain.  Nevertheless, much of the time the actual cause of the pain can be traced to some underlying condition.  Figuring out what is causing the pain helps with determining treatment options.

A common cause of chronic pain is a back problem.  Most people will suffer some kind of back pain in their life.  In fact, it’s probably true that any animal with a spine suffers some spine-related pain during its lifetime.  Back pain isn’t always caused by an injury but can be the result of natural degeneration, infection, or even genetic conditions.  Carrying extra weight can stress the back, and out of shape people are the most common sufferers of back pain.  However, thin people can still suffer, and in fact people who are too thin might have bone loss that could lead to further stress on the spine.  The easiest treatment for back pain is regular exercise, and continued exercise can even help prevent further back pain.  However, because everything people do has an effect on the back and spine, developing some kind of pain will likely always be a common phenomenon.

Osteoarthritis and other forms of arthritis are another common cause of chronic pain.  In fact, these are the leading cause of missed work days and disability in the United States.  There is a 20 percent chance of developing arthritis by the time you are 60 years old.  Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints that can be the result of injury, infection, or simply a factor of aging.  Just as with back pain, arthritis can be the result of being overweight or obese, as over time the extra weight will cause more stress in the joints.  Another leading cause of arthritis is sports injuries, as any joint trauma can lead to the development of some arthritis.  It is recommended that people stretch before and after engaging in such activities, as being flexible and stretching joints can help warm them up so to reduce the chances of injury.  Eating healthily can also help prevent the development of arthritis, as fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods contain natural compounds that help protect cells from damage and from some forms of degeneration.  However, some forms of arthritis may represent a systemic illness with more serious health consequences, so any new arthritic pain warrants a medical evaluation.

Another common form of chronic pain is headaches, especially migraines.  Migraines can be severe enough to affect a person’s ability to work, and they affect more than 10 percent of Americans.  Typically, a migraine is a throbbing pain occurring on one side of the forward part of the head (in the temples or behind the eyes).  Stress, lack of food, and even bright or unnatural lights can all trigger migraines.  They are more common among women than men, but there seems to be some indication that migraine suffering is related to a gene mutation that affects the brain and is therefore heritable.  Migraines are often treated with medication and even preventative medication taken before symptoms occur.  However, relaxation techniques and rest can help as well.  Migraines seem to be most prevalent in the middle of life, and unlike back pain and arthritis, people over 60 report a marked decrease in frequency and severity of migraines.

There are many forms and underlying causes of chronic pain, and determining the cause, if possible, is an important step in treatment.  Whatever the cause, chronic pain can be debilitating, including severe psychological effects.  People might develop an increase in negative emotions and even depression.  For this reason, chronic pain is sometimes treated with both medication for the pain and antidepressants or other psychological treatment.  Forms of relaxation can help, such as massage or meditation, and because a lot of pain is exacerbated by lack of exercise, chronic pain can sometimes be relieved by a low-impact exercise regime.  However, even in sufferers of chronic pain, new pain can indicate a new medical problem.

Any concerns about chronic pain should be discussed with a doctor to discover underlying causes and means of treating it.  If you have any concerns about pain or other medical issues, you can find a physician in the Southwest Florida area to speak with through IPALC’s Group & Physician Directory at  Or you can contact IPALC directly at and one of our staff members will be happy to refer you to a nearby physician.


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