Just How Chronic is Chronic Pain, Really? We'll Tell You.

How Chronic is Chronic Pain?, image of a white woman facing away from the camera and wearing a black backless bodysuit, health
via Unsplash

The United States has a widespread chronic pain problem.

What Is Chronic Pain?

A paper cut, a sprained ankle, menstrual cramps - to varying degrees, we've all experienced pain. Pain is a normal, and useful, response of the nervous system, traveling up your spine to alert your brain of potential injury.

Chronic pain is different. It can begin as normal (or acute) pain, but unlike acute pain, chronic pain doesn't go away. It is classified as pain that lasts at least 12 weeks and can last months, years, or longer. Chronic pain often disrupts daily life because it "can limit your mobility and reduce your flexibility, strength, and endurance."

Types of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain can occur almost anywhere in the body for almost any reason, meaning there are many different causes of chronic pain. It is often caused by an initial injury that heals, but the nerves have become damaged, making pain linger. Examples of chronic pain caused by injuries include:

slipped or bulging discs in the back

• compression fractures

• torn rotator cuff

Disability and chronic illness are also common causes of chronic pain. In this instance, chronic pain can either be a symptom of a disorder, such as with arthritis, or the disorder itself, like with migraines. Some types of chronic pain caused by illness include:

• fibromyalgia

• cancer

• inflammatory bowel disease

• endometriosis

Psychogenic pain is a type of chronic pain that is psychological. That doesn't mean it is any less real - or any less painful - than other forms of chronic pain. It can actually be harder to treat than other types of chronic pain because painkillers tend to only treat physical forms of pain and there is no physical cause of psychogenic pain. Psychogenic pain can be caused by:

• mental illness, such as anxiety or depression

• fear

• emotion

How Chronic is Chronic Pain?

So just how prominent is chronic pain? It turns out that chronic pain affects roughly 100 million people in the United States and about 1.5 billion people worldwide. More people suffer from chronic pain in the U.S. than diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer put together. This isn't to say that those conditions don't cause pain or chronic pain, but is simply used to demonstrate just how widespread chronic pain is.

Some statistics on chronic pain include:

• 17.6% of adults in the U.S. consider their chronic pain to be "severe."

• Around 84% of people in the U.S. have chronic back pain at some point.

• Half of adult Americans have some form chronic joint pain. Arthritis is the most common.

• About 10% of Americans have chronic nerve pain, such as neuropathy.

• 25.3 million adults in the U.S. have experienced chronic pain each day in the last three months.

Chronic pain is incredibly widespread and experienced by large portions of the population. People that have chronic pain often feel alone, and it can be hard to reach out when you are suffering. It is important to remember that you aren't alone in your pain, that there is hope.

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