What is chronic pain?

Picture of the pain memory (chronic pain in children)

We speak of chronic pain when pain occurs constantly or repeatedly over a period of several months. Chronic pain always has several causes. The simultaneous occurrence of physical and emotional problems will often lead to the development of pain memory. This pain memory can at some point give rise to pain itself.

An example: Nineteen-year-old Kathy has had reoccurring tension headaches since adolescence, which become worse when she is stressed. Recently, she started an internship to become an insurance agent. She also moved out from her parent’s house to live in a different city where her work is. The new environment and demands from training are very stressful for Kathy, and she has begun to experience more regular headaches.
On weekends, she often visits her family and friends in her hometown. She noticed that every Sunday evening during her return trip, the headaches would occur again. A vicious cycle is set in motion, and eventually she experiences the headaches constantly.

Pain therapy

In treating chronic pain it is very important to consider all factors involved. In our example it would mean that the young woman needs a physical examination (to exclude a somatic illness), a strategy to deal with tension headaches (for example, doing sports), an explanation of the vicious cycle of pain (so she understands where the headaches are coming from) and instructions on outwitting her pain memory (for example, by means of distraction exercises).
With this simple but conclusive approach a large part of chronic pain can be successfully treated.

Incidence of chronic pain in childhood and adolescence


Figure on children and adolescents with disability due to pain

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