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Chronic Pain: What Is It, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Did you know that chronic pain affects over 20% of adults in the United States? It limits work, exercise, and social activities and significantly impacts your overall quality of life.

Many people live with chronic pain and feel it’s something they must tolerate.

But the more you ask the question, “what is chronic pain,” the more you’ll realize that it’s not a condition you should have to accept as normal. Many treatments are available to help this pain, depending on the root cause.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about chronic or ongoing pain and its treatments.

What Is Chronic Pain?

There are two main types of pain you can experience, chronic pain and acute pain. Acute pain typically comes on quickly and results from a specific injury. Acute pain doesn’t last longer than 3 to 6 months. Acute pain resolves once the underlying cause of the pain is gone.

Acute pain is usually the result of broken bones, dental work, or surgery.

Chronic pain is any lingering pain that’s ongoing and lasts more than six months. Chronic pain continues after the illness or physical ailment has healed. Sometimes chronic pain isn’t the result of any obvious injury or condition.

This type of pain can also trigger feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress. This is because, over time, even mild chronic pain impacts your overall health. When people are in pain, they tend to be less active, which leads to more muscle tension and stiffness.

What Are the Common Types of Chronic Pain?

This type of ongoing pain can affect any part of the body. However, there are common types of chronic pain that people experience, which include:

Chronic Headaches 

Chronic headaches last 15 days out of the month for at least three months.

Tension headaches are a common type of chronic headache and are usually the result of fatigue, stress, or muscle tension.

Migraines are also common and can be due to hormonal issues or problems with the nervous system.

Woman holding her head dealing with chronic headaches
Man with chronic joint pain looking for a pain specialist in San marcos.

Chronic Joint Pain

Chronic joint pain can result from infections, injuries, or age. Conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can cause swelling and joint pain.

Some people also have problems with repetitive motion injuries that are from a specific job or sports activity. These motion injuries can eventually cause ongoing pain.

Tendinitis, which is inflammation of the tendons in the joints, can also become a chronic pain issue.

Chronic Back Pain

Chronic back pain is extremely common, and usually, people feel lower back pain. 

Herniated discs can result in chronic back pain. This condition is due to lifting or twisting injuries and can compress the nerves causing pain and numbness. 

Spinal stenosis or spinal canal narrowing can also cause nerve compression and nerve pain, which can become chronic.

Spinal fractures and soft tissue damage from injuries and trauma cause pain in the tendons and ligaments. This pain can become chronic and even lead to complex regional pain syndrome.

Man holding back in pain and looking for pain specialist and treatment options
Woman with chronic nerve pain down her arm and hand

Chronic Nerve Pain

Chronic nerve pain results from nerve damage or nerve compression. Problems with sciatica or carpal tunnel syndrome cause nerve compression that can become chronic.

High blood sugar with diabetes causes damage to the nerves in the legs and feet, which leads to tingling, burning, and chronic pain.

What Causes Chronic Pain?

Many times, there can be no known cause. In some cases, pain begins after an infection or injury. Sometimes injuries cause nerve damage which impacts nerve signals, causing you to feel pain more intensely.

This is because it causes damage to the peripheral or central nervous system, which affects how your brain processes pain signals.

There are specific medical conditions that can cause chronic pain, such as:

  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Viral infections like herpes
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Diabetes
  • Strokes

What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Pain?

People with chronic pain can experience pain in multiple parts of the body at once and symptoms can vary for each person. However, people usually describe the pain as:

  • Burning
  • Shooting
  • Aching
  • Muscle stiffness and tension
  • Stinging and shooting
  • Throbbing
  • Soreness

Many people also have trouble falling asleep at night, so they don’t get the adequate rest they need. This can lead to problems with anxiety, depression, or mood swings.

It’s also common to experience changes in your normal activity levels over time. People who were more active in the past have to stop participating in certain physical activities, which can also make symptoms of depression worse.

How Do You Diagnose Chronic or Recurring Pain?

Your first step is to see a doctor who specializes in treating pain conditions. Pain management doctors will pay special attention to how the pain you’re experiencing affects your life.

They’ll start by assessing your pain and asking questions like:

  • Where is your pain?
  • How intense is your pain on a scale of 0 to 10?
  • Does your pain come and go?
  • How does your pain affect your daily life?
  • Is there anything you can do to make your pain better?
  • What activities worsen your pain?
  • Have you had any recent injuries or illnesses?
  • Have you had any recent surgeries?

Next, a pain management doctor will do a physical examination and talk to you about other symptoms like depression or anxiety.

They’ll do tests to assess your range of motion and how you walk. Additionally, they test reflexes to determine how well your nerves are working and check how you feel different sensations. 

Diagnostic Tests

Next, the doctor will do blood and urine tests to assess for any infections or conditions like diabetes. Blood tests also indicate how well the organs are functioning and if there are high levels of inflammation.

They’ll also do imaging tests like an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI. An X-ray can detect abnormalities in your bones and joints. CT scans and MRIs give a detailed picture of the soft tissues and nerves.

Nerve conduction velocity tests evaluate how the nerves are functioning, and a myelogram evaluates nerve compression in the spinal canal.

How Do You Treat Chronic Pain?

Treatments vary, depending on the type and cause of the pain. It also depends on a person’s age and overall health. Treatment plans usually consist of medication, lifestyle changes, and various therapies.

Lifestyle Changes

Stress plays a significant role in this type of pain since stress increases the levels of inflammation in your body. Pain management doctors will recommend techniques for managing stress. Meditation and deep breathing are great places to start since they calm the mind.

Low-intensity exercise like swimming or walking for 30 minutes daily can also help to reduce pain and muscle tension.

It’s also important to eliminate foods that cause inflammation. Processed meats, fried foods, and refined grains like white bread are the best place to begin.


Medication management is essential. A pain management doctor will usually recommend anti-inflammatory medications. They’ll also prescribe a combination of medications like:

  • Topical ointments or creams
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Antidepressants
  • Corticosteroids 
  • Opioid medications

Trigger Point Injections

Trigger point injections can relieve painful muscle knots that are areas of tension. Typically these injections contain a steroid and a local anesthetic, and the injection relaxes the muscles.

Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency ablation uses radio waves that create heat and target nerves and damaged tissue. A needle is inserted into the nerve area that’s causing pain. The heat creates a lesion on the nerve that prevents it from sending pain signals to the brain.

Fluoroscopy, which is a type of X-ray, guides the needle to ensure proper placement.

An anesthetic numbs the area, so there is no pain during the procedure. It also doesn’t cause damage to the nearby nerves.

Spinal Cord Stimulation

Spinal cord stimulation uses a device that goes under the skin near the abdomen or buttocks. Electrodes go between the vertebrae and the spinal cord. Spinal cord stimulation changes how people perceive pain. 

It has a remote control that allows people to send electrical impulses whenever they’re experiencing pain. These impulses affect the pain signals before they reach the brain. As a result, the signals impact the brain differently, and people don’t interpret them as chronic pain.

Spinal cord stimulation is effective for chronic back pain that doesn’t improve with other treatments like medications or surgery. It’s also effective for nerve pain and complex regional pain syndrome.

Spinal cord stimulation isn’t permanent, and your doctor can remove the device anytime.

See an Experienced Pain Specialist for Your Pain

Hopefully, this article has helped you learn a little more about and understand the type of pain you’re experiencing.

Whether you’re looking for a San Marcos Pain Specialist or a New Braunfels Pain Specialist, you can turn to Lone Star Spine and Pain Institute for help.

We offer treatment for back pain, neck pain, knee pain, arthritis, migraines, and more. We work to identify the source of the pain and use a multi-disciplinary approach to treat your pain, like radiofrequency ablation and chiropractic care. 

Our goal is for all patients to return to the activities they enjoy without having to live with the burden of pain.

Make sure to contact us today to schedule an appointment!

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Picture showing a pain doctor caring for his patient by holding hands.

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If you or a loved one is suffering from chronic pain, call us today and let us help you get your life back.