Health A to Z

Chronic pain

Chronic pain affects up to 30 percent of Canadians. Learn why with this overview.

Chronic pain causes symptoms treatments

Chronic pain is pain that is persistent, typically lasting longer than three to six months. Between 10 and 30 percent of Canadians experience chronic pain, which can have a negative impact on relationships, sleep, routine tasks and jobs.

Chronic pain causes There are different types of chronic pain; it can be the result of an illness or disability, such as cancer, arthritis or fibromyalgia, or an injury, accident or surgery. With some types of chronic pain, like migraine headaches, the pain occurs on a recurring rather than constant basis. Chronic pain affects both men and women, but the incidence rates are slightly higher in women. Chronic pain can occur at any age but is most common in middle age.

Chronic pain symptoms Chronic pain varies greatly from case to case but may include joint or head pain that won’t go away.

Chronic pain diagnosis/tests Talk to your doctor if you have pain that doesn’t go away. She may order tests including X-rays, CT scans or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) test to try to find the cause of pain, or use ultrasound to find pain trigger points in the muscles and nerves. Some doctors will ask you to rate your pain from zero to 10 and describe how it feels (shooting, sharp or throbbing pain, for example) to get an indication of the pain source.

Chronic pain treatment The most common treatment is medication for pain relief. Psychological treatment, including cognitive behaviour therapy, may also help chronic pain sufferers cope and improve their quality of life.

Chronic pain prevention Chronic pain prevention depends on the type of pain. For example, with chronic back pain, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle boost the risk of developing it. Butting out, getting regular exercise to improve flexibility and strengthen your stomach and back muscles, and maintaining good posture while standing, sitting and driving, may be helpful for warding off chronic back problems.

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Outside resources
Chronic Pain Association of Canada
Headache & Pain Relief Centre


Watch: Yoga to Help Relieve Back Pain