Chronic pain is something that affects millions of people in the United States, and many more than that, perhaps in indirect ways. When someone has chronic pain, it can impact every area of their life and their physical and mental well-being.

There are certain instances where you might be able to trace the root of your chronic pain to a particular situation. For example, car accidents can be a reason for chronic pain. Whiplash can have serious health implications over the long-term, as can other seemingly non-severe accident injuries. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of chronic pain in the U.S. ranges from 11% to 40%.

Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons adults go for medical care, and it causes restrictions on daily activities and mobility. Chronic pain is linked to opioid dependence, mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, and reduced quality of life. 

The CDC describes chronic pain as an emergency health concern on its own, with consequences affecting individuals and families but also the whole of society. 

Acute pain is different from chronic pain in a few ways. Acute pain tends to occur suddenly and has a specific cause. Chronic pain can have a specific cause, but then it's ongoing, while acute pain usually doesn't last more than six months. When the underlying cause goes away, so does the pain.

Examples of acute pain can include surgery and broken bones.

Chronic pain typically lasts longer than six months, and even after the initial injury heals or goes away, the pain continues. Not all chronic pain has a discernible cause or injury that led to it either. For those instances of pain that do have a cause, what are the most common?

Chronic Pain Syndrome

When pain lasts for anywhere from three to six months or more, it becomes known as chronic pain, and sometimes it can then evolve into chronic pain syndrome or CPS. 

Chronic pain syndrome tends to involve symptoms that go past just the pain-for example, someone with chronic pain syndrome may develop anxiety or depression.

When someone has chronic pain syndrome, it may require a multi-faceted treatment approach such as physical therapy combined with counseling or behavioral therapy. 

Chronic Back Pain

Chronic back pain isn't a cause itself and is rather a symptom, but an estimated 84% of adults in America will experience chronic back pain during their life at some point. Most people experience it in their lower back, and the reasons for chronic back pain can include an injury, such as a car accident or a work-related injury, normal wear-and-tear, or osteoporosis. 

Back pain is the top reason for disability in the workplace. Specific root causes of back pain can include:

  • Compression fractures which tend to be linked to osteoporosis

  • Spinal stenosis

  • Bulging or slipped discs, often caused by lifting heavy items 

  • Soft tissue damage from trauma or strain

  • Spinal deformities such as scoliosis

  • Spinal fractures

Chronic Joint-Related Conditions

Conditions that cause joint pain are another reason for chronic pain in many people.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an example. Rheumatoid arthritis is different from osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that often occurs in older people and affects large joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes the spaces in the joints to swell.

Bursitis and tendonitis are other inflammation and joint-related causes of chronic pain.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome can actually cause chronic pain as well. Chronic fatigue syndrome is a condition that's not well-understood. It's characterized by extreme tiredness that isn't alleviated with rest and doesn't have an underlying medical condition to explain it. 

Some doctors and researchers believe chronic fatigue syndrome might be caused by viral infections or psychological stress, or perhaps a combination of both. 

Pain-related symptoms of CFS can include headaches, muscle pain, and joint pain without swelling or redness. 

For some people, symptoms will come and go, and they may have months or years of remission. 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease or IBD is a group of intestinal disorders that lead to inflammation in the digestive system. 

The digestive system includes everything from the mouth through the large intestine. 

For some people, IBD can be not only incredibly painful but also life-threatening. 

Along with intestinal pain such as cramping and bloating, IBD can have effects on other parts of the body and can lead to pain-related issues such as arthritis.


Fibromyalgia is a disorder that leads to widespread pain as well as symptoms like fatigue and mood-related issues. 

Researchers think that fibromyalgia may stem from how the brain processes pain signals. For example, people's brains with fibromyalgia may amplify sensations of pain. 

Sometimes there is an initial trigger of fibromyalgia, such as surgery or physical trauma, and in other cases, symptoms can come on gradually with no identifiable trigger event. 

The pain associated with fibromyalgia tends to be described as a constant dull ache. It occurs on both sides of the body and both above and below the waist. Other pain-related complications of fibromyalgia can include migraines, joint disorders, and painful bladder syndrome. 

Nerve Pain

Nerve pain is somewhat like back pain in that it can stem from a variety of underlying sources. 

For example, cancers and tumors can cause nerve pain, and sometimes cancer treatments including chemotherapy can cause nerve damage leading to chronic pain. Diabetes and HIV can cause nerve pain, as can shingles. Shingles can be followed by something called postherpetic neuralgia. 

Physical injuries are another reason for nerve pain in some people. 

From injuries to diseases, chronic pain can be debilitating for many people. It's important that health care providers work to have more of an understanding of chronic pain to offer treatment and solutions, and society as a whole will have to gain a greater understanding as well since it impacts the workforce and the economy. 

For people struggling with chronic pain, everyday can be a challenge, but more understanding can help lighten the burden.