Pain is regarded as chronic when it does not go away and is experienced by a patient on most days of the week for at least 3 months.
About 1 in 5 Australians suffer from chronic pain.
A slightly higher proportion of females report having chronic pain than males do.
Prevalence tends to be higher in older individuals. At least 1 in 4 women aged 50 years or over report having chronic pain.
The leading cause of chronic pain is reported to be injury, commonly from playing sport, car accidents, home accidents and work accidents.
Almost two-thirds of people with chronic pain report that their pain interferes with their daily activities.
It is common for a person with chronic pain to consult their GP about their pain, but patients also seek advice from medical specialists (eg. orthopaedic surgeons, rheumatologists, anaesthetists), and allied health professionals and alternative practitioners including physiotherapists, pharmacists, chiropractors, masseurs, acupuncturists, and naturopaths.
Use of oral analgesics by chronic pain sufferers is common. Paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are the most frequently used, but a notable proportion of patients use vitamins, minerals and/or herbal and natural preparations.
The impact of chronic pain
Chronic pain can have an enormous impact on its sufferers. It may interfere with a person's sleep patterns, their sexual activity, their ability to work and conduct daily activities, and it can cause emotional distress and lead to serious mental health problems, including depression.
The goals of pain treatment are to enhance functioning and reduce suffering and distress, while minimising the risk of adverse effects. While it is rare to eliminate chronic pain completely, it should be possible to control pain to a tolerable level and allow people to function at an acceptable level.
While acute pain can usually be attributed to an identifiable disease or damage process, finding an identifiable process for chronic pain can be very difficult. Sometimes the cause of the pain cannot be determined. This does not make the pain any less real to the patient.