chronic painLast updated
Chronic pain is defined as pain that continues for more than three to six months. It can have many causes, from arthritis to diabetic nerve pain, or a difficult recovery following an injury or surgery. Recent estimates from a CDC study show that as many as 20 percent of adults in the US live with chronic pain.
Chronic pain may sometimes be described as persistent pain that continues despite the absence of injury. This means that a person’s nerves can continue sending pain signals even after an initial injury or disease has been treated, due to nerve damage. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that chronic pain can be an overlooked disability — a person may not “look” sick or have an obvious injury, and the level of a person’s pain may not match assumptions about their initial injury or illness. Following the person’s preferred terminology whenever possible aligns your framing with their lived experience. If their preference is unknown, person-first language can be used (phrasing like “person/patient being treated for chronic pain” or “people experiencing chronic pain.”)
Despite common assumptions:
- Chronic pain can happen at any age.
- People with chronic pain often receive many different treatments in addition to medications, like surgery or physical therapy.
- Not every person who has chronic pain will be prescribed or take opioid pain medications. They may also be prescribed medications that are not opioids; several types of antidepressants and anti-seizure medications are commonly used to treat chronic pain. If a person with chronic pain does take opioid pain medication, it does not mean that they have or will automatically develop an opioid use disorder.
- Chronic is not synonymous with permanent. People with chronic pain may experience pain for months or years, or it may come and go throughout their life.
- Everyone will be affected differently by different kinds of pain, and there’s no type of pain that is universally the “worst.”
|Instead of||Preferable phrasing|
|permanent||chronic. long-lasting or long-term may also be appropriate but should not be the default|
|pain patient||person being treated for pain/chronic pain|
|devastating, suffers from, horrible||lives with, living with|
- Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among U.S. Adults, 2019 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA)
- Chronic Pain Information Page (National Institutes of Health)
Chronic pain is a common condition of persistent pain that continues for more than three to six months. Chronic pain can be an overlooked disability — a person may not “look” sick or have an obvious injury, and the level of a person’s pain may not match assumptions about their initial injury or illness. Taking into account the person’s preferred terminology whenever possible aligns your framing with their lived experience.