What Is Chronic Pain Syndrome? A Closer Look

what is chronic pain syndrome

More than 20% of adults experience chronic pain throughout their lives. Almost everyone has encountered an accident and felt pain. The same throbbing, burning, or aching feeling also occurs with chronic pain.

But it isn’t the same as cutting your finger or breaking a bone. So, what is chronic pain syndrome? Let’s break down the symptoms, causes, and treatments for this condition.

What Is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain doesn’t follow the same pattern as regular pain. It can last months, or even years, after an injury has healed. Chronic pain can also appear without warning, leaving you feeling frustrated. The onset of chronic pain is often unexplainable.

Acute pain is a reaction to an injury, illness, or infection. Cuts, bruises, and broken bones are some examples of acute pain. It usually disappears when the body begins to recover, but chronic pain lasts much longer.

Most medical professionals define chronic pain as anything lasting longer than three months. But many chronic pain patients suffer from symptoms for years without treatment.

What Is Chronic Pain Syndrome?

Chronic pain syndrome (CPS) happens when chronic pain lasts for an extended time. It’s a combination of chronic pain and its effects. CPS often includes mental health problems like depression or anxiety.

Chronic pain syndrome can be debilitating and affects every aspect of someone’s life. They might struggle to eat, dress, or go to work. Isolation, frustration, and chronic fatigue can also occur.

Possible Complications of CPS

Unmanaged chronic pain can lead to a myriad of complications. These effects range from mood disorders to sleep disturbances and weight gain. And they often create a vicious cycle.

Mood disorders, like depression, sometimes produce physical symptoms like chest pain. This feeling might cause a CPS sufferer to fear a heart attack, increasing their anxiety. They might lose sleep over this fear, miss work or school, or skip social events.


If you feel pain day in and day out, it will significantly affect your mood. So it makes sense that depression and chronic pain have a strong connection. One large study followed 1,352 participants with a median age of 47.

The most common chronic pain complaint was lower back pain, followed by generalized pain. The average length of pain was seven years. Over 60% of the participants in this study experienced severe depression.


We spend our entire lives trying to avoid pain. We’re careful with knives and scissors, and we look both ways when we cross the street. But what if you can’t predict the source of your pain?

Chronic pain and anxiety have high comorbidity for this very reason. A study of 250 primary care patients showed that almost half had one or more anxiety disorders. The fear of pain can heighten anxiety, while anxiety disorders often manifest in physical symptoms, like pain.

Substance Use Disorder

Since CPS is difficult to diagnose and treat, substance abuse is common. Alcohol, drugs, and tobacco can become a coping mechanism and self-medication. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that up to 10% of people with chronic pain abuse opioids.

The dangers of this comorbidity are immense. Dependence accelerates as the need for more of the substance to numb the pain increases. Treatment also becomes more complicated when substance abuse disorder is present.

Other Complications

Beyond mood disorders and anxiety, chronic pain can sneak into other aspects of your life. It can affect you physically, emotionally, and mentally. Other complications with chronic pain syndrome include:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Irritability
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Lowered sex drive
  • Mood swings
  • Relationship problems
  • Career difficulties or job loss
  • Self-harm or suicidal thoughts

If you’ve ever had a sleepless night because of an aching back, you know how it can affect your day. It can leave you feeling cranky, lethargic, and unable to focus. This experience is a daily reality for those who suffer from chronic pain.

Symptoms of Chronic Pain Syndrome

Back pain, headaches, and joint pain are the most common types of chronic pain. But that doesn’t mean other parts of the body are exempt. People often experience chronic pain in their:

  • Back
  • Neck
  • Head
  • Arms and legs
  • Muscles
  • Joints
  • Nerves

Everyone processes pain in a different way. Some might have a constant ache, while others feel a burning sensation. Chronic pain patients often describe the feelings as:

  • Throbbing
  • Aching
  • Burning
  • Shooting
  • Stinging
  • Stiffness

These sensations can be felt in one spot, such as the neck, or as an all-over body ache. Pain levels can vary from dull aches to severe distress.

Causes of Chronic Pain

It’s difficult to pinpoint a single reason for chronic pain. It can appear without any evident reason. Some of the most common causes include:

  • A prior injury, illness, or accident
  • An ongoing health issue like cancer or arthritis
  • A mental health disorder

Medical professionals have found a high risk of chronic pain associated with the following conditions:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Shingles
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Arthritis
  • Migraines
  • Pelvic pain
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Eppstein-Barr
  • Sickle cell anemia

In addition to these conditions, studies have identified some risk factors for chronic pain. They include:

  • History of depression and anxiety
  • Presence of substance dependency
  • A disability
  • Lower socioeconomic level
  • Low job satisfaction

Chronic pain syndrome has both physical and mental origins. Some experts theorize that people with CPS feel pain differently. Others believe it may be a learned response to prior pain.

Diagnosing Chronic Pain Syndrome

Receiving a chronic pain syndrome diagnosis can be difficult. Pain is often viewed as a symptom of another issue, rather than a diagnosis. Your journey will likely begin with a comprehensive physical exam.

The medical team will also review your health history. They will ask you questions like:

  • When did the pain start?
  • How long has it lasted?
  • Is it confined to one location?
  • Can you describe the type of pain?

You might also have to rate the pain you feel on a numerical scale. To help the diagnosis, keep a log of your symptoms and triggers. The doctor may ask if any factors increase or decrease the sensations.

Chronic Pain Treatment Options

Chronic pain treatment often includes a combination of remedies. Some aim to reduce pain, while others focus on specific symptoms like depression or fatigue. Lifestyle changes, such as daily exercise and meditation, can also aid in managing pain.


Medication is a central component of pain management. Chronic pain medication usually consists of:

  • Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Antidepressants
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Topical Analgesics
  • Opioids

NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen are available over-the-counter. They’re used to treat mild to moderate pain and can supplement other drugs. Doctors can also prescribe stronger NSAIDs for more severe symptoms.

Although antidepressants aren’t formulated with chronic pain in mind, they’re often used to treat it. They can change how we perceive pain, decrease anxiety, and lead to better sleep. But not all antidepressants are effective for chronic pain treatment.

Antidepressants also come with side effects like nausea, dizziness, and mood changes. Some can increase depressive thoughts and the risk of suicide. Your health team must carefully monitor your antidepressant usage to avoid adverse reactions.

Anticonvulsants are usually prescribed to control seizures, but some studies show they might be effective for pain management. Two specific drugs, carbamazepine and gabapentin, have demonstrated positive results. They work by blocking transmissions from nerves and lessening the intensity of pain.

Topical analgesics are cream, gels, and patches applied directly to the skin. They’re often available in the pharmacy aisles, but stronger varieties require a prescription. Topical applications are an effective way to subdue short-term pain.

Moderate to severe chronic pain can benefit from opioids. The most commonly prescribed forms are oxycodone and fentanyl. Opioids can be very addictive, so it’s vital to weigh the pros and cons with your health team.


People who experience chronic pain often use therapy to complement their treatment. Therapy can include physical and mental health techniques. Common forms of therapy include:

  • Hot and cold therapy
  • Biofeedback
  • Relaxation therapy
  • Group counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Occupational therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has shown promising results for chronic pain patients. This type of therapy aims to connect feelings and actions with thought patterns. The goal is to change behavior by understanding and managing your beliefs and emotions.

The efficacy of CBT on pain management requires further research. But some studies show it might be more beneficial for women. Regardless of gender, any patient with mental health symptoms can benefit from CBT.


Surgery as a pain management technique is performed on a case-by-case basis. It might be a good option if your pain stems from an injury or an illness with a surgical cure. Not every chronic pain patient will find surgery beneficial.

Lifestyle Changes

The core habits of a healthy lifestyle include nutrition, exercise, hydration, and sleep. Chronic pain patients can better manage their pain when following these same principles. Nutrition counseling is a great place to start if your diet isn’t supporting you.

Studies have found a strong link between obesity and chronic pain. The two are often comorbid and negatively affect one another. Lowering your body weight if you’re not in a healthy range can relieve pain symptoms.

Exercise might seem impossible when pain is present, but low-impact workouts can help. Try swimming, aerobics, yoga, or pilates for gentle movements to achieve weight loss goals. A sedentary lifestyle is often a contributing factor to the development of CPS.

Vitamins and supplements are vital elements of a nutritious diet. The list of beneficial supplements is long and varies based on pain location. An easy way to get a boost of vitamins is through IV therapy!

Alternative Chronic Pain Treatment

Many people seek out alternative options to boost the efficacy of their treatment plan. Music, art, and dance therapy can increase endorphins and help reduce pain sensations. Other forms of holistic healing include:

  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness practice
  • Reiki
  • Aromatherapy
  • Breathing techniques
  • Hypnosis
  • Guided imagery

These techniques have conflicting success rates across the board. Some chronic pain patients swear by them, while others see little benefit. But there’s no harm in trying some of these methods!

Acupuncture is one of the most effective holistic treatments for pain. This traditional practice involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body. A large meta-analysis found that patients experienced, on average, 50% less pain post-treatment.

Chiropractic care is another essential factor in pain management. A chiropractor can help ease inflammation and muscle tension that causes mild to moderate pain. Spinal manipulation is the first line of treatment provided by chiropractors.

It has proven most effective for lower back pain, but experts think it can help other musculoskeletal-related troubles. A chiropractor can also work with you to adjust your posture and show you how to reduce strain. With bad posture often being the culprit of back pain, this can be valuable knowledge!

Symptom-Specific Treatment

If a specific cause is the source of chronic pain, it’s often better to treat it at the root. Other times, focusing on a set of symptoms is the best way to ease the majority of the pain.

Allograft Therapy

Allograft therapy is more commonly known as stem cell therapy. It’s beneficial for joint pain, migraines, autoimmune disorders, and more! The goal is to repair damaged cells, reduce inflammation, and alleviate pain.

Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT)

If hormones are the issue, then BHRT might be a good solution. BHRT is used to treat a variety of conditions, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cancer

Bio-identical hormones are man-made replacements created to balance your natural hormone levels. Your body utilizes them in the same way that it would use naturally-produced hormones. They’re available in many forms, including pills, injections, and creams.

Get Pain Relief Today

So, what is chronic pain syndrome? It’s an ongoing condition that can affect every aspect of your life. Chronic pain often moves past the physical to create mental and emotional distress.

If you’re suffering from chronic pain and don’t know where to start, we can help. Rejuvenate Health is a cutting-edge medical facility that provides traditional and holistic medicine. Set up an appointment today, and we’ll get started on your pain management plan!

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