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Chronic pain is pain that is persistent and lasts for a long time (as opposed to acute pain, which comes on suddenly, and may or may not be severe, but is of shorter duration). Sometimes pain continues long after the illness is over or the injury is healed. Other conditions (such as osteoarthritis) don’t resolve themselves, but get worse with time, and the pain also continues.


However, most people with chronic pain can be successfully treated with pain control medications, other forms of treatment and rehabilitation of the injury, if appropriate.



What causes chronic pain?


The most common causes include head and spinal injuries, cancer, arthritis, diffuse or regional non-specific musculoskeletal pain angina, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, shingles, the after-effects of surgery and back pain.



What is the treatment?


Try to prevent pain from becoming chronic by getting early treatment for the injury or illness that is causing the pain. If over-the-counter pain relievers don’t work or the pain lasts for more than a few days, see your doctor.


If pain has become chronic, your doctor may advise you to start taking paracetamol, or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) on a regular basis.


The next step, if these do not work well enough, is to take opioids such as codeine or dihydrocodeine (DHC). However codeine and DHC are addictive and can cause constipation. If you need stronger pain relief, long-acting tramadol works well, is not addictive and does not usually cause constipation.


Medications usually prescribed for epilepsy, such as sodium valproate, carbamazepine and gabapentin, may help chronic pain caused by nerve damage.


Your doctor may prescribe small doses of antidepressants to help you sleep – tranquillising sleeping pills are addictive and you should not use them regularly. In extreme cases, doctors can prescribe medications like morphine, but for people without cancer the side effects are usually too unpleasant.



Can chronic pain be cured?


If chronic pain is due to an injury, exercise and re-training the injured part of your body may, in many cases, cure the chronic pain completely. That’s why it is very important to improve your fitness and use the injured part of your body as normally as possible. Don’t give up hope – even if the pain itself does not improve much, you can learn how to live with it. There are specialist pain management health professionals and clinics which can assist with the treatment of chronic pain.




More Information

International Association for the study of pain





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