Long term (chronic) pain is defined as pain lasting more than 3 months. It has a major impact on patients, health services and wider society. Our understanding of why people develop long term pain is still developing but it is increasingly apparent that our previously simplistic concept of pain meaning damage to tissues of the body does not hold up when it comes to chronic pain.
Chronic pain involves changes to the brain and nervous system which perpetuates the sensation of pain despite there being no evidence of any underlying cause. A good example of this is seen in people with long term back pain but normal MRI scans. This could be considered similar to a fault in a computer's software rather than the hardware.
Traditionally pain has been looked after by prescribing pain killing medicines. Whilst this can be helpful in the short term, there are concerns about long term use of pain killing medicines as they can cause problems such as drug dependency, depression, constipation and also they can increase the perception of pain, thereby worsening the situation they were originally intended for.
There is a helpful explanatory video available from the RACGP which explains chronic pain further, including new approaches to helping patients to manage and live with chronic pain.