Chronic pain is a complex biopsychosocial phenomenon that can have a profound impact on people’s lives.1 One in five Australians lives with chronic pain, including adolescents and children. This prevalence rises to one in three people over the age of 65. The prevalence of chronic pain is projected to increase as Australia’s population ages – from around 3.2 million Australians in 2007 to 5.0 million by 2050. Of these, females bear a greater share of chronic pain.2
Everyone’s experience of pain is different. Two people with the same injury can have a very different physiological response and pain experience. When pain persists beyond the expected time of tissue healing it can become very distressing and often has a negative effect on overall physical and mental health. Like depression, chronic pain can become a serious and debilitating disease in its own right and significantly diminish the quality of life of patients and their families. Research shows that women are more likely to be depressed related to their level of pain, whereas for men depression is more strongly related to how pain interferes with activity.3
There are many underlying causes of chronic pain, although it is not always possible to determine the precise cause, especially with chronic spinal pain. Chronic pain persists long after the tissue damage that initially triggered its onset has resolved, and in some individuals, chronic pain can continue without ongoing tissue damageor preceding injury. Common chronic pain syndromes include chronic low back pain, headache, myofascial pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, neuropathic pain, phantom limb pain, central pain syndromes, arthritis, post-herpetic neuralgia, and chronic post-surgical pain.
There is a stigma associated with chronic pain that can be one of the most difficult aspects of living with this condition. This stigma can lead patients to emphasising or insisting on the nature of their condition as solely a local tissue condition, and as such it is beyond their control. While understandable, this may impede acceptance and engagement in positive health management behaviors.