Chronic pain: Not only a matter of time

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The term "chronic" is often used in daily clinical practice to indicate a type of pain that lasts over time and is accompanied by diagnostic and therapeutic difficulties. The common feeling is that in this category are actually collected many different clinical cases with the unique characteristic that the pain lasts a long time. It follows that treatment failures are common and patients roam from doctor to doctor in search of an effective care program. At the same time the health spending for the treatment of these patients is becoming increasingly high. In clinical practice we meet many patients with obscure pain syndromes which are classified as "chronic" and untreatable only because persist for long time and that obtain a complete pain relief after a right diagnosis and a specific treatment. In this review the Authors want to argue that the term chronic should not be used only when the pain persists for some time or just when signs and symptoms of mechanisms in the central nervous systems are present. The authors suggest that there is a clear difference between acute and chronic pain but also that in chronic pain patients there are three different painful conditions: 1) patients with a chronic disease (or sequelae) and with chronic pain in which the pain mechanisms are closely related to the underlying chronic disease (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis) or to previous injury that has generated other unsolvable mechanisms (e.g., deafferentation pain after plexus avulsion); 2) patients with a chronic disease and chronic pain in which new mechanisms overlap those related to the underlying disease; 3) patients with chronic pain in whom the correlation between pain and the initial tissue injury is lost and the persistence of pain is due to new developed mechanisms. According to this classification we can distinguish patients with "painful chronic disease" by patients with "independent chronic pain". In these latter cases the complexity of the clinical picture is to be found in a maladaptative response to pain, in emergence of central nervous system mechanisms and in behavioral changes that, in turn, can cause long-term social, psychological and physical sequelae. Differences among patients in developing chronic pain can be related to differences in the ability of the brain to continuously adapt its functional and structural organization. It is obvious that the care plan for these complex patients is profoundly different from that needed for patients with pain linked to a chronic disease or stabilized pain mechanisms. The purpose of the present article is to provide a review of the most noteworthy developments in this field and to propose some observations that may help to understand this pain condition and the patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)704-711
Number of pages8
JournalMinerva Anestesiologica
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012


  • Chronic pain
  • Intractable
  • Pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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