What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is defined as any pain which lasts longer than three months. Chronic pain is sometimes called ‘the silent epidemic’. It is very common, affecting 20 per cent of the population — that is, 3.5 million Australians, including children and the elderly, who are suffering at this very moment.

Chronic pain is the world’s leading cause of disability and lost workplace productivity, costing the Australian economy $35 billion per year. You may be living with pain yourself or almost certainly know someone who is, such as a loved one, friend, or work colleague.

What is sometimes frightening is that chronic pain often comes ‘out of the blue’ and, in an instant, changes people’s lives forever — a workplace or motor vehicle accident, sporting injury, a simple ankle sprain or bout of shingles; any other these events can lead to a lifetime of suffering.

The most common chronic pain conditions are low back pain, neck pain, headaches and migraines, arthritis, fibromyalgia and neuropathic (nerve) pain.

Neuropathic pain is a difficult problem — it is caused through nerve damage due to an injury (for example, a cut nerve during surgery or spinal cord damage after a car accident); nerve diseases such as diabetes, shingles, stroke; or a trapped nerve in the back (sciatica). These damaged nerves produce showers of extra pain signals (like sparks off a fallen power line during a storm) producing ‘electrical pain’ (shooting, stabbing ‘lightning strikes’, electric shocks).

Chronic pain can be so disabling it severely limits the ability of the sufferer to work; driving a car can be impossible; simple household chores can be challenging; and for some people, even getting out of bed can be troublesome. There is currently no cure for chronic pain.

New approaches for chronic pain management are desperately needed and will only come from research. Through the Churack Chair of Chronic Pain Education and Research, The University of Notre Dame Australia, St John of God Health Care and other leading institutions will ensure that pain research is translated into meaningful and practical benefits for persons-in-pain.

The Chair will also promote ‘best practice’ pain education for Notre Dame medical and health care students.