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NINDS Chronic Pain Information Page

Synonym(s):   Pain - Chronic
Condensed from Pain: Hope Through Research


Pain in America

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What is Chronic Pain?

While acute pain is a normal sensation triggered in the nervous system to alert you to possible injury and the need to take care of yourself, chronic pain is different. Chronic pain persists. Pain signals keep firing in the nervous system for weeks, months, even years. There may have been an initial mishap -- sprained back, serious infection, or there may be an ongoing cause of pain -- arthritis, cancer, ear infection, but some people suffer chronic pain in the absence of any past injury or evidence of body damage. Many chronic pain conditions affect older adults. Common chronic pain complaints include headache, low back pain, cancer pain, arthritis pain, neurogenic pain (pain resulting from damage to the peripheral nerves or to the central nervous system itself), psychogenic pain (pain not due to past disease or injury or any visible sign of damage inside or outside the nervous system).  A person may have two or more co-existing chronic pain conditions.  Such conditions can include chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, interstitial cystitis, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and vulvodynia.  It is not known whether these disorders share a common cause.

Is there any treatment?

Medications, acupuncture, local electrical stimulation, and brain stimulation, as well as surgery, are some treatments for chronic pain. Some physicians use placebos, which in some cases has resulted in a lessening or elimination of pain. Psychotherapy, relaxation and medication therapies, biofeedback, and behavior modification may also be employed to treat chronic pain.

What is the prognosis?

Many people with chronic pain can be helped if they understand all the causes of pain and the many and varied steps that can be taken to undo what chronic pain has done. Scientists believe that advances in neuroscience will lead to more and better treatments for chronic pain in the years to come.

What research is being done?

Clinical investigators have tested chronic pain patients and found that they often have lower-than-normal levels of endorphins in their spinal fluid. Investigations of acupuncture include wiring the needles to stimulate nerve endings electrically (electroacupuncture), which some researchers believe activates endorphin systems. Other experiments with acupuncture have shown that there are higher levels of endorphins in cerebrospinal fluid following acupuncture. Investigators are studying the effect of stress on the experience of chronic pain. Chemists are synthesizing new analgesics and discovering painkilling virtues in drugs not normally prescribed for pain.

NIH Patient Recruitment for Chronic Pain Clinical Trials

Organizations

Column1 Column2
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
National Institutes of Health, DHHS
31 Center Drive, Room 5B-55
Bethesda, MD   20892
nidcrinfo@mail.nih.gov
http://www.nidcr.nih.gov
Tel: 301-496-4261

American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA)
P.O. Box 850
Rocklin, CA   95677-0850
ACPA@theacpa.org
http://www.theacpa.org
Tel: 916-632-0922 800-533-3231
Fax: 916-652-8190

American Headache Society Committee for Headache Education (ACHE)
19 Mantua Road
Mt. Royal, NJ   08061
achehq@talley.com
http://www.achenet.org
Tel: 856-423-0043
Fax: 856-423-0082

National Headache Foundation
820 N. Orleans
Suite 411
Chicago, IL   60610-3132
info@headaches.org
http://www.headaches.org
Tel: 312-274-2650 888-NHF-5552 (643-5552)
Fax: 312-640-9049

Arthritis Foundation
P.O. Box 7669
Atlanta, GA   30357
help@arthritis.org
http://www.arthritis.org
Tel: 800-283-7800 404-872-7100 404-965-7888
Fax: 404-872-0457

 
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Prepared by:
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892



NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

Last updated September 26, 2014