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Chronic pain

Chronic pain
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Chronic pain

Chronic pain continues long after your body should have completely healed. There are different types of chronic pain, such as nerve pain, pain from bones, muscles and joints, as well as cancer pain. Chronic pain can be anything from mild to severe. It is different to acute pain, such as pain from an injury, which happens quickly and doesn't usually last for long.

What causes chronic pain?

Normally, if you get an injury, the nerves from that part of your body send signals to the brain that there’s a problem. The brain reads these signals as pain.

But when someone has chronic pain, the nerves that carry pain signals to the brain or the brain itself are behaving in an unusual way. The nerves might be more sensitive than usual, or the brain might be misreading other signals as pain.

Living with chronic pain

Chronic pain can make it hard to work, take care of yourself and do the things you enjoy. It can also affect your sleep and mood. More than half of Australian adults with chronic pain become anxious or depressed because of their pain. It’s important to treat this if it happens.

Just as pain can affect your mood, improving your emotional health and wellbeing can also help you manage your pain.

Managing chronic pain

Chronic pain probably won’t go away just with medication. Most people benefit from a range of different treatments, such as:

  • psychological techniques – you can see a psychologist or use online self-help sites
  • pacing your activities
  • physiotherapy
  • relaxation techniques such as meditation
  • exercise such as walking, swimming, cycling or tai chi
  • improving your sleep.

In some patients your doctor may discuss short term use of strong pain management such as opioids such as morphine, fentanyl or oxycodone or codeine. These do work in some patients but only short term.

The aim of managing chronic pain is to allow you to resume do things such as socialise,work and be active generally. Reliance on medication is usually short term as you learn to regain function and cope with the symptoms of chronic pain.

Talk to your doctor about a plan for managing your chronic pain. You might want to keep a pain diary, which helps you look back and see how the pain affects you.

If you find it difficult to talk about your pain, such as explaining how bad it is or how it affects your life to doctors or loved ones, you can find a useful communication tool on the NPS website.

Last reviewed: October 2016

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