Home » Managing pain » A universal language is needed to define and explain chronic pain

Chronic pain exerts an enormous personal and societal burden from an emotional and economic perspective and is believed to affect around 30% of people worldwide.1

Experiencing acute pain is an evolutionarily valuable phenomenon in triggering a healing process in response to the damage incurred and protecting from future harm, through the process of learning.

In contrast, chronic pain, typically lasting longer than three months, serves no recognised biological function. It is associated with longer term negative health outcomes including potential physical disability and poor mental health.

Significant burden

Unfortunately, perhaps in part due to its commonality, particularly in elderly populations, the experience of chronic pain is often normalised and simply perceived as a natural part of an ageing process.  

As there are no objective tests for establishing the causes of most forms of chronic pain – physicians are nearly entirely reliant on patients’ description of their symptoms in terms of location, intensity and characterising descriptors defining the experience in order to make a diagnosis.

For the patient, understanding that their chronic pain is not normal but is unique to them is invaluable. Characterising their pain using clear language is an essential step. Patients should also define the exact extent to which it is affecting their life, including loss of sleep, changes in mood through to missing work or social events.

Together this holistic picture will give the doctor the best opportunity to design a treatment plan specific for each individual’s type of pain.

Working together 

On establishing a correct diagnosis, it may be necessary to work with a multi-disciplinary team of healthcare professionals to optimise outcomes. Professionals and patients using a common language that all parties understand helps to build empathy and trust. Additionally, it’s important physicians manage patient expectations around the level of pain control that can be achieved, and support lifestyle changes around weight management and increasing activity levels that may also be necessary.

Above all, it’s really important that the patient takes their pain seriously, and  is fully engaged in the healthcare process to maximise their opportunity to realise real health gains and lead as full and productive a life as possible.

To treat chronic pain effectively it is important that each of the three elements that contribute to pain are considered by the patient and physician alike. 

The biology underlying the patient’s pain can trigger negative changes in a patient’s sleep patterns, which can lead to psychological challenges (negative mood/depression) that can worsen the pain experience. 

Possessing good coping strategies can help to counter the above challenges. Patients will also probably need the support of friends and family members. Many older patients may lack this support framework and social isolation is a common problem. 

Everyone should feel comfortable and capable in communicating their pain. Please speak to your healthcare professional for advice and support. 

This Content was provided by Viatris UK Healthcare Ltd

NON-2022-8620 June 2022

 Reference: 1. Content adapted from: The Lancet: Chronic pain: an update on burden, best practices, and new advances. Steven P Cohen, Lene Vase, William M Hooten 

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