Reframe and Relieve Chronic Pain

Jennifer E. Engen

Persistent headaches and back pain. Achy bones, especially feet and hands. Gnawing, cramping guts. Whole-body soreness. So many people live with various flavors of chronic pain, and often go months or years without finding relief.

Some 20 percent of Americans are affected by chronic pain, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) — making it one of the most common reasons adults seek medical care. Chronic pain can be caused by ailments like fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel diseases, or it can spring from stubbornly lingering injuries. Left untreated, pain can limit mobility, curb daily activities, and lessen quality of life — often leading to anxiety and depression.

Chronic pain is different from its cousin, acute pain. The latter occurs in response to tissue damage and inflammatory processes that follow, where the pain is viewed as part of the healing process, Steven P. Cohen, MD, chief of pain medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, wrote in an overview of chronic pain published in May 2021 in The Lancet.

Once the immediate and intense period has passed — generally said to be roughly three to six months — pain that continues is a burden, increasingly viewed as a disease in and of itself.

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