Everyday Aches or Diagnosed Chronic Pain?

What's the difference between everyday aches and pains and chronic pain? If you live with chronic pain, you know the answer to that question is complicated. 

The American Chronic Pain Association provides this definition for chronic pain:

Chronic pain can be described as ongoing or recurrent pain, lasting beyond the usual course of acute illness or injury or more than 3 to 6 months, and which adversely affects the individual's wellbeing. A simpler definition for chronic or persistent pain is pain that continues when it should not. 

It's harder to find a formal definition for aches and pains, which are something most people consider normal. Many people wake up in the morning with an achy back or knees that groan with the first steps of the day. Everyone gets sore muscles or a headache once in a while. These pains are part of every day living, the result of aging, injury, stress, exercise, and minor illnesses. They come and go and usually, once we're past the first hour of the morning or recovered from our injury or illness, these aches and pains are a thing of the past. And that's where chronic pain differs from everyday aches and pains. 

Chronic pain sticks around long past the time it takes to recover from a headache or illness, injury or case of "morning creakiness." It follows you through the day and makes a significant impact on your life. You might find relief for a short period of time, but the pain comes back. Sometimes the pain is relieved by over the counter medications, but often times, it requires stronger pain medication and other drugs to treat the underlying causes of chronic pain. 

What Are the Causes?

There are lots of illnesses, injuries and conditions that can lead to chronic pain. Cancer, arthritis, neurologic disorders and migraines are just a few examples. The pain these conditions cause some patients doesn't necessarily respond to standard treatment and may not resolve with time. Instead, pain relief is addressed with a multi-faceted treatment plan that might include anti-inflammatory medications, narcotic pain medications, antidepressants, acupuncture, stress management, exercise, weight loss, and other medical, therapeutic, pharmaceutical, and lifestyle techniques. 

Sometimes, chronic pain conditions resolve with consistent health and lifestyle interventions. Some patients with pain from migraines or fibromyalgia, for instance, find that by following a careful diet, getting plenty of exercise and sleep and monitoring their stress levels, they're able to keep pain at bay. If the underlying cause of chronic pain can't be cured or controlled however, the patient might need long-term pain management prescribed by a pain specialist.

What About Daily Aches and Pains? 

Most run-of-the-mill every day pain conditions will go away without treatment. Pain that's particularly annoying or disruptive can be treated with aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen and in the case of an injury, with rest, ice, compression and elevation. If pain persists past a couple days or reoccurs regularly though, you might be dealing with something more serious than every day aches and pains. Talk to your doctor about any painful conditions that crop up frequently or don't go away as they should. 


American Chronic Pain Association