This Is What Living With Chronic Pain Is Really Like

Julia Ries

This story is from HuffPost in the US – and part of Pain in America, a nine-part series looking at some of the underlying causes of the opioid addiction crisis and how we treat pain.

Chronic pain comes in all different shapes and sizes — it burns, it aches, it stabs and throbs. Some people’s pain is linked back to muscle and joint injuries, whereas others’ pain is caused from conditions like endometriosis, cysts, nerve damage and inflammation.

And even though chronic pain — or the type of pain that lingers for months or years on end — affects about 20% of the population, we still don’t know too much about it. Many of the conditions that cause chronic pain are poorly understood, and researchers have yet to clearly identify how the brain processes different types of pain. 

For many, the pain is unbearable — 8% say their pain is so intense it interferes with their ability to live. They can’t work, they can’t date, they can’t travel or work out. It can touch every part of your daily life.

Here’s what it’s actually like living with chronic pain.

Diagnosing pain is a tricky business.

Identifying the root of chronic pain isn’t easy. According to Christin Veasley, the director of the Chronic Pain Research Alliance, there’s a historic underinvestment in pain research, which means medical experts know very little about the mechanisms behind pain. 

Diagnostic criteria has often been based on pain in a specific body part. “The thought is that if you have pain in your knee, there must be some sort of active disease process going on in the knee,” Veasley said.

But research has since shown that chronic pain is actually linked to irregular pain pathways all around the central nervous system (so while one might feel pain in their knee, that may not be where the pain is actually coming from). As a result, diagnosing pain is a wild game — and many conditions go either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. 

Take Jaime, a 28-year-old marketing manager in...

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