What is Chronic Pain Syndrome?

by Dorian Lange, CEO & Co-founder, Northern Arizona Pain Institutes 

Chronic pain syndrome can be treated with medications, procedures, surgeries and various forms of therapy.

More than 35% of Americans suffer from some element of chronic pain syndrome. Pain has two general categories: acute and chronic.

Acute pain signals injury and generally resolves itself in less than 30 days as a person heals. Chronic pain refers to pain persisting longer than three months, and it can last years. Chronic pain can be mild to severe, annoying to debilitating and continuous to intermittent.

Chronic pain syndrome is a common problem that presents a major challenge to patients and health care providers because of its complex nature. Nearly 100 million people are affected and are partially or totally disabled due to chronic pain.

Symptoms associated with CPS include fatigue, difficulty sleeping, suppressed activity and disability. Mood changes such as depression, fear, hopelessness, irritability, stress and anxiety can be linked to CPS. The emotional toll can make the pain worse.

CPS can result from injury, infection, or ongoing disease. In many cases, the cause is unknown. Some major causes of CPS include arthritis, headache, low back pain, cancer, joint pain and nerve pain. Various musculoskeletal, neurological, urologic, gastrointestinal and reproductive disorders can contribute to CPS. 

Chronic pain syndrome can be treated with medications, procedures, surgeries and various forms of therapy. Classes of medications used include over-the-counter analgesics, opioids, anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), anti-depressants and medical marijuana.

Procedures that can be extremely helpful include trigger point injections, steroid injections, nerve blocks, radiofrequency ablations, spinal cord stimulator implants and other minimally invasive spinal procedures. Hyaluronic acid injections, platelet rich plasma and stem-cell injections also are highly effective. 

Forms of therapy include physical therapy, chiropractic, occupational, recreational and vocational. Psychological therapies include reassurance, counseling, biofeedback, relaxation meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy and stress management. Acupuncture, reiki, essential oils, massage and yoga can be instrumental as alternative therapies.

CPS can affect activities of daily living and tremendously disrupt quality of life and day-to-day functioning. The condition is best treated with a multidisciplinary, integrative approach that includes health-care professionals such as physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, psychologists, physical therapists and holistic practitioners.