What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Pain?

Learn the Difference Between Chronic and Acute Pain

Woman rubbing aching back
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Tell someone you suffer from chronic pain, and they think they know exactly what you're going through. “Oh, I get headaches all the time, too.”

However, chronic pain is very different from acute pain. Acute pain happens at the time of injury, and goes away when the injury heals. Chronic pain sticks around longer than it should, offering little to no relief.

Obviously, the main symptom of chronic pain is pain.

The word “pain,” however, does not accurately describe the experience of people who live with it every day. Chronic pain is more than just a physical symptom: it may also cause depression, fatigue, and irritability. It can even interfere with work, relationships and activities of daily living.

How Do I Know if My Pain Is Chronic?

Because there are so many types of chronic pain, symptoms can be vague and difficult to pinpoint. In general, pain that is unexplainable or that has lasted beyond its expected healing time can be described as chronic pain. This kind of pain is persistent, and disrupts your life.

You may have chronic pain if you answer yes to any of the following questions:

  • Has your pain lasted for more than six months?
  • Is your pain the result of an injury which should have healed by now?
  • Does your pain get worse when you are stressed or angry?
  • Do you feel a sense of hopelessness when you are in pain?
  • Has your pain medication stopped working, even if your dose has increased?
  • Do you have trouble sleeping because of pain?
  • Does your pain affect your social life or relationships?
  • Do you regularly call in sick because of pain?
  • Is it harder for you to enjoy things because you are in pain?

Does Chronic Pain Feel Different Than Acute Pain?

Acute pain is felt immediately following injury, and is usually described with intense words such as sharp, stinging, biting or stabbing.

Chronic pain, on the other hand, is described with more low-key words such as dull, aching, throbbing or burning.

This might not seem like a significant difference; however, if you think about the words, they represent the two kinds of pain very well. Words like stinging indicate sudden, intense pain, which is exactly what acute pain is: the body’s immediate reaction to injury. On the other hand, the word aching indicates constant, nagging pain, which is an accurate description of what chronic pain is like: always there in the background, even when the initial injury has healed.

Symptoms That Often Accompany Chronic Pain

People who suffer from chronic pain often experience other sensations associated with their illness. If you have chronic pain, in addition to the physical symptom of pain you may notice one or more of the following:

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Decreased coordination
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Flu-like aches and pains
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Blurry vision

What to Do If You Have Symptoms of Chronic Pain

If the chronic pain descriptors sound familiar to you, or if you are experiencing any of the secondary symptoms, you should definitely be tested for chronic pain. Consult your doctor, and bring a detailed list of symptoms with you to your consultation. You may also want to keep a pain journal to track the circumstances under which you feel chronic pain. Your doctor will ask you questions about your pain, and perform tests to determine if there is another explanation for your symptoms.


Disorbio, John Mark. Psychological Factors Related to Pain. National Pain Foundation. 3/27/2008.

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