Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Chronic pain

Chronic pain
beginning of content

Chronic pain

3-minute read

Chronic pain is pain that lasts for more than three months, or in many cases, beyond normal healing time.

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?

Chronic pain can be due to chronic illnesses like migraine, osteoporosis, arthritis and other musculoskeletal ailments, or after an injury or surgery. Sometimes there is no apparent cause.

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

Medicines alone are not the answer to chronic pain.

Medicines to treat pain are generally divided into opioids and non-opioid medicines. Opioids are strong painkillers like morphine, fentanyl or oxycodone or codeine. They might be prescribed for short periods but are not very effective in pain that is not caused by cancer. Long-term use of opioids has potentially serious harms, including accidental fatal overdose, dependence or addiction.

Non-opioid pain medicines, like paracetamol and ibuprofen, can be effective at relieving pain, but should generally be used only for a short period and in combination with self-management techniques.

People with chronic pain who actively manage their pain on a daily basis do better than those who rely on passive therapies, like medication or surgery. Most people benefit from a range of different treatments and self-management, 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

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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2018


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Chronic Pain Management & Tratment | THIS WAY UP

Understanding the signs, symptoms and treatment options available for those suffering Chronic Pain in Australia.

Read more on This Way Up website

Pain: what is going on? - NPS MedicineWise

Pain is a way for the brain to alert the body to potential danger. It is experienced in many different ways, and there are many different treatments for managing pain. Find out more.

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Chronic pain explained - NPS MedicineWise

Chronic pain is pain that continues beyond expected healing time. Learn about managing chronic pain including information on opioid & non-opioid medicines. 

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Making Sense of Pain - Pain Management - painHEALTH

Learn how to make sense of pain to identify what types of pain you experience and how to approach and co-manage your pain through parts of the pain jigsaw

Read more on painHEALTH website

Online Treatment Course for Chronic Pain | THIS WAY UP

Learn practical strategies for managing chronic pain, and associated low mood and anxiety with our clinically-proven online course.

Read more on This Way Up website

Pain Management | enableme - stroke recovery and support

Need to know more about the type of pain you might experience after your stroke and how can it be managed?

Read more on Stroke Foundation website

How exercise can help chronic pain and reduce symptoms

Exercise can play a key role in managing your chronic pain, research has even shown it can reverse and reduce pain. Read more here

Read more on Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) website

Chronic pain — Arthritis Australia

Chronic pain is any pain that lasts longer than three months

Read more on Arthritis Australia website

Managing chronic pain: A cognitive-behavioural therapy approach | Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) support program - homepage | Arthritis Australia

Arthritis Australia is a charitable not-for-profit organisation and is the peak arthritis body in Australia.

Read more on Arthritis Australia website

Prescription Drugs - Alcohol and Other Drugs Knowledge Centre

Prescription Drugs The non medical use of prescription drugs can occur when people use prescription drugs to get high or  because they have become addicted to them through trying to manage chronic pain or psychological distress

Read more on Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo