What is Chronic Pain?


In the sections that follow, I will be referring to Suzanne, Mike, Sarah and Ashley. They are all characters, like you, who live every day in pain.

You can read about their struggles and triumphs in Book One of Unbelievable Pain Control. This book is based on a true story. Here, these four characters learn how one amazing person was able to demonstrate unbelievable pain control. This incredible person underwent major surgery without anesthesia and without any pain medication after her surgery. (In Book Two, you can meet the real person who was able to accomplish such incredible pain control – control over pain during major abdominal surgery and in several additional dental surgeries.)

Below are some of the things Suzanne, Mike, Sarah and Ashley learned from this amazing person. I have also tried to explain some central ideas about chronic pain and its’ impact on people’s lives. I sincerely hope this information can help you and your family.

There are Two Main Types of Pain

Short-term pain is different from long-term pain. Both are physical. Both are real. Both can lead to a lot of suffering.

Most of us know something about short-term pain. We may have experienced pain from a cut, a burn, surgery, a toothache or childbirth, as examples. Shortterm pain can range from mild to severe. It can be unbearable while it lasts. Suzanne knew a lot about short-term pain as a dentist and as a patient.

With short-term pain, there is always an end in sight. With treatment or time, you know that it will be temporary. Each hour, and each day, the pain gets a little better. This helps you to maintain hope and strength. You know that it will soon be over.

Chronic pain is very different. It is more like a neverending endurance test. It will not be over soon. You struggle to survive and to hang on to whatever hope you can. You try to conserve your strength so that you can last another day. Suzanne had much more difficulty coping with her chronic neck and back pain than she did from her surgery. The surgical pain was more intense, but it did not last that long. Hours compared to years, it was no contest.

Escalations of Pain

Temporary escalations in pain are called flare-ups. Pain can flare-up just like a fire can. Imagine how the intensity of a fire increases when you blow on it. Now imagine pouring gas on the fire. This is what happens during a flare-up, especially a bad one.

Flare-ups can last for a few minutes or a few weeks on end. Often they involve severe pain and can be harder to cope with than constant background pain. Even though they are short-term, flare-ups can feel like they will never end. Pain can be very convincing.

Sometimes flare-ups can build on top of each other. This happens when a new flare-up is triggered before the last one has had a chance to settle down. Back to back flare-ups can be especially difficult. You have no time to recover from one before the next one sets in. These are times when pain can really become overwhelming.

Suzanne, Mike, Sarah, and Ashley spent a lot of time in the hospital program learning about their own flareups. They had to try and sort out the activities and stresses that could trigger a flare-up and figure out a recovery plan for the flare-ups that were unavoidable. Sometimes, weather changes can trigger unavoidable flare-ups, for instance. Fortunately, many flare-ups can be avoided. They learned a lot of very useful strategies by studying the patterns and details of their pain flare-ups. This was a good start to learning some real pain control.

Flare-ups and
Chain Reactions

Sometimes flare ups are simple. You move the wrong way, get a sharp pain in your neck and it takes an hour or so for it to settle down. At other times, flareups can work like a chain reaction. Here is an example. Pain interferes and reduces your sleep. Your pain is worse the next day. Now that your pain is stronger, it interferes even more with your sleep the next night, leading to even higher pain levels the followingday. In this example, there are only two elements to the chain reaction, pain and sleep. They keep aggravating each other, as your pain increases and your sleep decreases. Then you crash for several days, resting in bed trying to recover.

Complicated chain reactions can involve many parts of your life. A chain reaction can start with an injury then lead to prolonged pain, loss of work, loss of benefits, big financial stresses, insomnia, despair and then to even higher levels of pain. If you are not able to return to work or get your benefits restored, higher pain levels can last for years. This mountain of pain can overpower almost anyone and make recovery very difficult.

Sarah had a lot of experience with this type of chain reaction. After her car accident, she was battling with many of these stresses. Her pain symptoms were flared-up for several years. It was only after she started working with Evelyn, that her stresses and pain began to lessen. This was a blessing for her.

Mountains of Pain To Climb

Pain can build in intensity - and keep building hourby- hour, day by-day. This happens most often when your injury or illness is aggravated by repeated activities. This was what was happening to Sarah. Even after she learned to settle her pain down with relaxation, she would jump back into gardening or house cleaning. This burst of activity would send her back pain soaring again. When the aggravation continued, her pain kept building and building, with each day bringing higher levels of pain.

Pain can also escalate following nights of poor sleep, and daytime exhaustion – especially if this pattern continues day after day. These factors can directly aggravate your physical injuries and trigger increases in pain. Pain can also build up when you become weakened with prolonged stress. Sarah was trapped in a long war with her insurance company. Mike was fighting workers’compensation, although his battles were less intense than Sarah’s. At least he was getting paid regular benefits. These situations can be horrible binds for people with chronic pain. Not only do you have to deal with the stress and conflict, but you also try and survive the mountain of pain that has built up.


This article may be printed/distributed freely as long as the entire article and the following bio are included.

Dr. Michael MacDonald is the author of Unbelievable Pain Control: How to Heal and Recover from Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia and a detailed website about pain that can be found at www.unbelievablepaincontrol.com



©2010 Dr. Michael R. MacDonald. All Rights Reserved