What does chronic pain mean?

Understand chronic pain

The causes of some chronic pain are clear, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. It is not uncommon for chronic pain to develop over a longer period of time, gradually get worse and gradually spread throughout the body. Then the original trigger can often no longer be identified - the pain has taken on a life of its own.

One possible consequence is that the search for a cause leads to repeated examinations, but these do not help. On the contrary, supposed causes for the complaints are often found that have nothing to do with them - in the case of chronic low back pain, for example, normal age-related changes in the spine. Such misleading results can lead to unnecessary fears and incorrect treatment - up to and including unnecessary operations.

According to current knowledge, prolonged pain in the nervous system can leave “traces of pain” that make the nerve cells more and more sensitive. Sometimes a “pain memory” is used in this context.

Other processes may also play a role. For example, injuries to nerves in some animal studies led to nerve fibers being remodeled: nerves that are responsible for sensory perception then also pass on pain signals. Prolonged stress can lead to the brain's ability to process pain being impaired. Pain is then perceived more or more strongly.