Chronic pain can be caused by many different factors. Often conditions that accompany normal aging may affect bones and joints in ways that cause chronic pain. Other common causes are nerve damage and injuries that fail to heal properly.
Some kinds of chronic pain have numerous causes. Back pain, for example, may be caused by a single factor, or any combination of these factors:
As with other subjective experiences, such as love, fear, or anger, there's no way to objectively measure pain. We asked Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, chief of the Pain Management Division and associate professor of anesthesia at Stanford University School of Medicine, to explain the unpleasant sensation we all feel in different ways.
Being overweight, which puts excess strain on the back and knees
A congenital condition such as curvature of the spine
Wearing high heels
Sleeping on a poor mattress
No obvious physical cause
Ordinary aging of the spine (degenerative changes)
Disease can also be the underlying cause of chronic pain. Rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia are well-known culprits, but persistent pain may also be due to such ailments as cancer, multiple sclerosis, stomach ulcers, AIDS, and gallbladder disease.
In many cases, however, the source of chronic pain can be a very complex and even mysterious issue to untangle. Although it may begin with an injury or illness, ongoing pain can develop a psychological dimension after the physical problem has healed. This fact alone makes pinning down a single course of treatment tricky, and it is why health care providers often find they have to try a number of different types of curative steps.