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Chronic Disease 2022

Understand your chronic pain and seek help when needed

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Mikhail Seleznev

Martina Phelan

Chairperson, Chronic Pain Ireland

Chronic pain, unlike acute pain, persists beyond the normal time of healing; this is generally accepted as pain that lasts longer than three months.

There are many causes of chronic pain such as an illness or injury from which you recover, but the pain remains. The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) redefined pain in 2020 as “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage.”

Chronic pain impacts every aspect of a person’s life.

Types of chronic pain

Chronic primary pain represents chronic pain as a disease in itself. It is characterised by significant functional disability or emotional distress that is not better accounted for by another diagnosis.

Chronic secondary pain is chronic pain where the pain is a symptom of an underlying condition and is organised into the following six categories:

  1. Chronic cancer-related pain is due to cancer or treatment, such as chemotherapy.
  2. Chronic postsurgical or post-traumatic pain develops or increases in intensity after a tissue trauma (surgical or accidental) and persists beyond three months.
  3. Chronic secondary musculoskeletal pain in bones, joints and tendons arises from an underlying disease classified elsewhere. It can be due to persistent inflammation associated with structural changes or caused by altered biomechanical function due to diseases of the nervous system.
  4. Chronic secondary visceral pain is secondary to an underlying condition originating from internal organs of the head or neck region or of the thoracic, abdominal or pelvic regions. It can be caused by persistent inflammation, vascular mechanisms or mechanical factors.
  5. Chronic neuropathic pain is caused by a lesion or disease of the somatosensory nervous system. Peripheral and central neuropathic pain are classified here.
  6. Chronic secondary headache or orofacial pain contains the chronic forms of symptomatic headaches — termed primary headaches in the International Classification of Headache Disorders 3rd edition (ICHD-3) and is part of chronic primary pain. Chronic secondary orofacial pain, such as chronic dental pain, supplements this section of ICD-11.

Treatment options

Chronic pain impacts every aspect of a person’s life. The most effective treatment includes symptom relief and support. A multidisciplinary approach to pain management is often required, providing interventions that help manage the pain. Public pain management programmes are available in some hospitals.

Where to get help

Chronic Pain Ireland (CPI) offers a range of supports including self-management workshops, a telephone support line, monthly e-newsletter, patient and public involvement (PPI) research partnerships, talks, meetings and public awareness events.

Chronic Pain Ireland (CPI) is a national charity providing information, education, advice and support services to people living with chronic pain and those affected. To learn more, become a member or support our work, visit 

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