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What Is Chronic Pain?

A young woman walks barefoot on the beach
Find a DRG
Pain Specialist

Do you have difficult-to-treat chronic pain in specific areas like your foot, knee, hip or groin? Dorsal root ganglion therapy may help. Find a DRG pain specialist near you.

A man splits logs in a wooded forest
Find an SCS
Pain Specialist

If you live with chronic pain and would like to learn about spinal cord stimulation, we can help you find an expert in diagnosing and treating people like you.

Glossary

Glossary

Find definitions of technical terms in our glossary.

Understanding Chronic Pain

Pain is the body’s natural response to harm. It occurs when receptors at the end of your nerves, called nociceptors, are turned on because of an illness, injury or chemical changes within the body. When a nociceptor is turned on, a signal travels through the spinal cord to the brain, which recognizes the signal as pain.

Chronic pain is pain that lasts three to six months or longer, or extends beyond an expected recovery period. It is often the result of an illness or injury.

If you suffer from chronic pain, you are not alone. Chronic pain affects one in four adults over age 40 in the U.S. and one in four adults over age 25 in the European Union.1,2 Unlike most other illnesses, however, chronic pain is largely misunderstood and undertreated.

Types of chronic pain

Chronic pain can be one of two types: nociceptive or neuropathic. Each type of pain feels different, has different causes and may be relieved by different types of pain management options.

Nociceptive pain 

Nociceptive pain is caused when special nerve endings—called nociceptors—are irritated. It is the type of pain you feel when you burn yourself, twist your ankle or stub your toe. It is a dull or sharp aching pain that ranges from mild to severe.

Nociceptive pain usually can be controlled. It is often temporary, such as when you have a sprained ankle, but it can also be a chronic condition. Cancer pain and arthritis pain are common types of chronic nociceptive pain. Nociceptive pain usually responds well to pain medications, anti-inflammatory agents or other drug therapies.

Neuropathic pain

Neuropathic pain is caused by a malfunction of the nervous system due to an injury or illness. It can be a sharp, intense, shocking or shooting pain. It can be a very stubborn type of pain because it does not usually respond well to standard pain treatments, such as over-the-counter pain medications (for example, aspirin or ibuprofen) or prescription pain medications.

Managing neuropathic pain

Neuropathic pain may be managed by a therapy called traditional neurostimulation, also referred to as spinal cord stimulation (SCS). More specifically, patients with neuropathic pain in the back, arms or legs or pain that comes from failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS) are sometimes prescribed spinal cord stimulation (SCS) therapy to help manage their chronic pain.

Learn more about spinal cord stimulation as a safe and effective therapy option for managing certain kinds of chronic pain.

For patients with pain that is limited to a specific area of the body, dorsal root ganglion (DRG) therapy may work where other therapies have not—or may have provided only partial relief. This sort of isolated chronic pain may start in a lower extremity (foot, knee, hip and groin) following an injury or surgical procedure and grow worse over time.

Learn more about DRG therapy, the next-generation therapy for managing certain kinds of difficult-to-treat isolated chronic pain of the lower extremities.

Evaluating your chronic pain

Chronic pain affects people differently. It is important to talk with your doctor or pain specialist about your symptoms, how long you have been experiencing pain and how it affects your life.

Before you see a doctor, you may find it helpful to print and fill out a chronic pain assessment. Learn more about talking with your doctor about chronic pain or request that a St. Jude Medical representative be in touch with you by contacting us

REFERENCES

1. Leadley, R. M., Armstrong, N., Lee, Y. C., Allen, A., & Kleijnen, J. (2012). Chronic diseases in the European Union: The prevalence and health cost implications of chronic pain. Journal of Pain & Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy, 26(4), 310-325. http://dx.doi.org/10.3109/15360288.2012.736933
2. Kennedy, J., Roll, J. M., Schraudner, T., Murphy, S., & McPherson, S. (2014). Prevalence of persistent pain in the U.S. adult population: New data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey. The Journal of Pain: Official Journal of the America Pain Society, 15(10), 979-984. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2014.05.009