Helping ease chronic pain

Image: Holger Langmaier; CC0

Chronic pain is the ongoing or persistent experience of pain. It often follows an injury or illness and persists long after the initial issue has resolved but sometimes can occur in the absence of any injury or illness. Because of its enduring nature, chronic pain is considered to be a condition in its own right. It can be debilitating.

Pain is a complex interplay of both physical and mental processes. Everyone experiences pain differently, depending on their genetics, culture, experience of trauma, stress and previous pain experiences.

Chronic pain happens when changes to the nervous system or organs result in the nerves continuing to fire inappropriately, sending consistent pain signals to the brain. Sometimes the body becomes highly sensitised and even very slight stimuli can provoke a strong pain response, such as in fibromyalgia.

Some other examples of common chronic pain states include drug-resistant migraine, post-traumatic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, endometriosis, pelvic pain, pain in multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and osteoporosis.

Chronic pain is invisible and sufferers can often feel stigmatised and isolated. As many as 1 in 5 Australians live with chronic pain—of those people, 1 in 5 will also have depression or other mood disorders. As our population ages, it’s expected that more and more people will be living with chronic pain, and currently as many as 1 in 3 Australians over the age of 65 live with the condition.