There are 58 possible causes of chronic pain

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What Is Chronic Pain?

Pain, though unpleasant, is your body’s warning system. The tingling, tightness, or stiffness indicates that overworked or damaged muscles and nerves need attention. Prolonged pain—lasting three months or longer—is considered chronic. Chronic pain strikes any place in the body, most commonly in the lower back, and ranges from mild to severe. It can be sharp, shooting, burning, aching, or marked by stiffness. While pain following injury or disease is normal, persistent pain can affect your personal and professional life.

Chronic pain can take a toll on you emotionally as well as physically. The emotional stress can further aggravate symptoms, and possibly weaken your immune system, which could lead to infection, fatigue, or depression.

Chronic Pain Triggers

Approximately one in three people in the United States will experience chronic pain, which can last for weeks, months, or years. Root causes that contribute to chronic pain include:

  • Chemical: If the brain chemicals that usually suppress pain fail to work, this could lead to ongoing pain.  
  • Neurogenic: This kind of pain results from damage to the central nervous system, in which damaged nerves are the source of pain.
  • Psychogenic: An emotional or mental issue—rather than disease, injury, or damage to the nervous system—could trigger the perception of intractable pain.
  • Psychological: Pain could be the result of personality traits or psychiatric illness that manifests as physical pain
  • Unidentifiable: When tests cannot find any instance of injury or illness that could have triggered the chronic pain, doctors might not be able to identify a cause.

Chronic Pain Risk Factors

Identifying the risk factors of chronic pain can help you manage or prevent symptoms.

  • Age: Chronic pain is not a normal part of aging, but conditions like arthritis and diabetes (which tend to appear with age) may contribute to chronic pain by causing joint and nerve destruction, respectively.
  • Health Conditions: Fibromyalgia, depression or anxiety disorders, joint injuries, limb amputation, and surgery are examples of chronic pain triggers.
  • Immune System: A weakened immune system can lead to infections or illness.
  • Smoking: Smoking can aggravate pain and reduce responsiveness to treatment.
  • Diet and Lifestyle: Indulging in junk foods, living a sedentary lifestyle, alcohol dependence, and other poor health habits can lead to chronic pain.
  • Emotional Stress: Relationship problems or physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, can contribute to chronic pain.
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Possible Causes - Listed in order from the most common to the least.



Arthritis is inflammation of the joints (where bones meet) in one or more areas of the body. This condition is most commonly seen in adults, but it can also develop in children and teens.

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What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread, unexplained pain in tender points in muscles and joints, including the head, neck, and sides of hips.

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Rheumatoid Arthritis Overview

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, a disease in which the immune system mistakes the body's own cells for invaders. In RA, the immune system attacks the synovia, the membranes lining the joints.

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Runner's Knee

Runner's knee is the common term used to describe any one of several conditions that cause pain around the kneecap (patella). These conditions include: anterior knee pain syndrome, patellofemoral malalignment...

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The sciatic nerve begins at the spinal cord, stretching through the hips and buttocks, and down each leg. When this nerve is irritated, you will experience sciatica, a painful, weak, or numb sensation in these areas.

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Tendons are thick cords that join your muscles to your bones. Tendinitis occurs when tendons become irritated or inflamed. This condition causes acute pain and tenderness, making it difficult to move the affected joint.

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What Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when this cartilage (which provides a cushion for bones) wears away. It can occur in any joint in the body, but most commonly affects the knees, hips, spine, and hands.

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Carpal Tunnel

Carpal tunnel syndrome is the compression of the median nerve, the nerve that passes through your wrist. The median nerve is located on the palm side of your hand (also called the carpal tunnel). It serves your thum...

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Gout Overview

More than 8 million Americans suffer from gout, and incidence of the disease has increased by about half in the last 20 years. Explore our gout learning center and learn more.

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Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Tear

An ACL tear happens when the ligament in your knee that holds the shinbone in place is torn. This type of injury usually occurs in athletes, and may cause bone bruising.

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CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating disorder characterized by intense fatigue that cannot be cured with sleep. Mental and physical activities may cause your symptoms to worsen. When your fatigue cannot b...

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Compression Fracture of the Back

A compression fracture of the back occurs when the bones of your spine (vertebrae) collapse. Compression fractures can cause your vertebrae to collapse, leading to poor posture, pain, loss of height, and a variety o...

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Costochondritis (Tietze's Syndrome)

Costochondritis causes chest pain that is related to inflammation of cartilage in your rib cage. More specifically, costochondritis often affects the cartilage where upper ribs attach to the sternum (breastbone). Thi...

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Rotator Cuff Injury

The rotator cuff is a common spot for injuries. The most common are tears, strains, tendinitis, and bursitis.

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

A syndrome is a collection of symptoms that often occur together. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common syndrome that causes many individuals to seek medical help. This condition is separate from inflammatory bowe...

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Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is a common form of chronic arthritis in children. It is a long-term autoimmune condition characterized by stiffness and swelling in the joints. Most cases of JRA are mild, but sever...

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Meniscus Tear of the Knee

The meniscus is a piece of cartilage that provides a cushion between your thighbone (femur) and shinbone (tibia). There are two menisci in each knee joint. They can be damaged or torn during activities that put pressur...

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Medial Collateral Ligament Injury of the Knee (MCL Tear)

The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is located on the inside of the knee. Ligaments hold bones together; the MCL connects the top of the shinbone (tibia) to the bottom of the thighbone (femur). Ligaments also ad...

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Whiplash occurs when a person's neck is whipped backward and then forward very suddenly. This injury is most common following a rear-end car collision. It can also result from physical abuse, sports injuries, o...

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Polymyalgia Rheumatica

Polymyalgia rheumatica is an inflammatory disorder that causes pain and stiffness in various parts of the body. Parts of the body commonly affected include the shoulders, neck, arms, thighs, and hips. This disorder i...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.