Chronic pain

Pain can be acute (onset within hours or days) or chronic (lasting weeks, months or years). It's important to recognise which type of pain you have, as well as understand what can be done to help.

Chronic or persistent pain

Pain that lasts longer than 3 months is referred to as chronic or persistent pain.

One in six New Zealanders live with chronic pain and no two people are affected in the same way.

Examples of chronic pain include fibromyalgia, low back pain and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and persistent migraines. In these situations, the pain is real but hurt does not equal harm to the body.

Symptoms

Everyone feels pain differently. Chronic pain is often accompanied by a range of other symptoms, such as:

  • fatigue, broken or unrefreshing sleep
  • anger, fear, frustration, worry or depression
  • reduced fitness or impaired movement
  • loss of independence.

Diagnosis

Effective management of chronic pain requires a comprehensive assessment of the pain and its impact on your life. This may include assessments by a psychologist, pain medicine specialist, physiotherapist, social worker, or occupational therapist.

There is no one specific test or scan that can diagnose persistent pain, so it can often take some time to determine what is going on.

Treatment 

Living well with pain involves using a number of strategies, including:

  • taking an active role in your treatment
  • identifying strategies to help you manage stress
  • a graded gentle exercise programme
  • tackling your worries
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • as a family, learn about pain together and talk about strategies for difficult situations
  • making sure that there are pleasurable activities in your week
  • some people may find medication helpful, however others might not
  • beware of people selling wonder cures. Look for health professionals who understand about pain and can give you the tools to manage at home.

If your pain persists and is affecting what you can do, ask your doctor/nurse about referral to your local pain service, a pain specialist or pain programme. 

Support

Pain can affect us in many ways and can stop you doing the things that you want to do. It is normal to feel frustrated about the pain and the impact this has on you.

Depending on the cause of the pain and the impact that it has on your life, one or more of the following support options might be helpful in addition to the appointments that you have with your GP or specialist:

Family and friends — Support, reassurance and assistance from family and friends with daily activities can be very helpful while you recover.

Counselling — This can be especially helpful if your pain arose from a trauma e.g. a car accident. Speak with your GP about counselling services available through your GP practice. You could also phone:

Learn More

Preventing and managing discomfort at work Habit at Work, ACC
Safety at home ACC
Occupational Therapy Board   
Physiotherapy New Zealand