Pain is a normal, expected part of the healing process following surgery, procedures, injuries and some illnesses. Pain occurs when nerves in your body send signals to your brain, and the brain interprets those signals to mean that you are in danger.
Typically, pain has a purpose because it gets your attention to let you know you’ve had an “injury” or there’s a risk of being injured. Having pain does not always mean that something is wrong or that you’re having complications.
Pain is usually referred to as acute or chronic.
Acute pain is a sudden, short-term episode of pain. Examples include pain after surgery or pain from an injury such as a broken bone. Acute pain decreases naturally as your body heals and generally lasts only for hours or days.
Pain is called chronic when pain becomes long-lasting, persisting for months or years. Chronic pain does not necessarily follow the natural pattern of improvement with healing. It may come from a medical condition that cannot be cured or is hard to treat. For some people, chronic pain seems to have no clear source at all.
Another term you may hear for pain is called “acute pain on top of chronic pain.” This happens when you have an acute pain from an injury, illness, surgery or procedure in addition to an existing chronic pain condition such as arthritis.
Chronic pain can be frustrating and exhausting. It can interfere with your work, sleep, emotional health, sexuality and your relationships with family and friends.
While dealing with pain is challenging, try not to let it overwhelm you. Feeling overwhelmed or fearful makes it more likely that your brain thinks you are in danger, and it interprets neutral signals from your body as if you might get injured. As a result, fear, anxiety and focus on pain can actually make pain worse.
There is no cure for chronic pain, although it can improve. Like other chronic conditions, such as diabetes and arthritis, it’s a matter of learning strategies to help you live well and manage your condition.
The goal of chronic pain management is to help you have the best function and quality of life possible despite the pain.
Remember that you do not have to deal with chronic pain alone. Your health care team can work with you to help you create a plan to safely manage your current pain and eventually, help you have good quality of life.
This material is for your education and information only. This content does not replace medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. New medical research may change this information. If you have questions about a medical condition, always talk with your health care provider.
- © 2018 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved.
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