Nearly half of the UK population – around 28 million adults – lives with some form of chronic pain. A research analysis published by the BMJ in 2016 found that 43% of Brits are affected and, researchers say, that number is only likely to keep rising with our ageing population.
With chronic pain described as ‘a major cause of disability and distress’, what exactly is causing so many people to live in constant pain, and how does it impact on their everyday lives?
The textbook definition of chronic pain, according to the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) is any pain that’s been present in any part of the body for a period of three months or longer.
“By definition, the difference between chronic pain and what we call acute pain – which is non-chronic pain – is that it doesn’t serve a purpose,” explains Dr Alan Fayaz, a spokesperson for the British Pain Society (BPS), and a consultant in Anaesthesia and Pain Medicine at University College London Hospital (UCLH).
“Normally when we feel pain, it’s the body’s way of warning us about something – you’ve put your hand on a hot stove, or you’ve had your appendix taken out and your body needs to rest so it can heal,” he adds. “Any pain that’s still present beyond a reasonable time of healing is not functional. If your body is still in pain after a period of three months, where there is no ongoing healing happening, then it is chronic, dysfunctional pain.”