A Pained Life: Is Chronic Pain One Disease or Many?

By Carol Levy, Columnist

When someone asks to join the online chronic pain support group I administer, they are asked what brings them to the group. Most often the reply is along the lines of, "I have fibro, CRPS, neuropathies, migraines, spinal issues, etc." 

The naming is usually long, and sad to read. 

Even after doing this for many years it still surprises me when the reply is a laundry list of diagnoses.

It is silly for me to continue to be taken aback. It is the very rare person who names only one illness. 

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the issue of childhood trauma and abuse as being a progenitor for chronic pain. I have my arguments with that theory. I also wonder if we lose sight of other possible originators of chronic pain disorders in our, and the research community's, willingness to hop on the “abuse as cause” train.  

I googled, "Chronic pain patients have multiple chronic pain disorders. Why?" The search came up with a number of websites for treatment, but nothing about research that addresses the question. Is there a biological reason, a chemical cause, or maybe genetic issues that cause a body to develop these combinations of diseases?

Often people with cancer in one part of the body see it metastasize to other areas.  My simplistic understanding is that a cancer cell gets loose and travels, spreading the disease.

Diabetics have the risk of eye and skin complications, kidney disease, neuropathy and other problems as a direct result of the diabetes, even when they have been managing the illness very well. The diabetes itself is the trigger for the body processes that cause the side effects. 

Is there a similar mechanism in chronic pain disorders? Does the presence of one condition set off a process that allows other pain disorders to take root? Does the body lose some of its defenses or ability to fight off other pain disorders? 

I am not a medical person. I have no idea if this is nothing more than the personal woolgathering thoughts of someone who thinks we, as a group, are in desperate need of answers.

We already clamor for more research into treatments for our pain. We need to also send out a clarion call for more research into what causes these disorders. This call needs to include looking outside of the box, maybe seeing chronic pain illnesses as a cluster of ailments rather than individual disorders that are distinct and separate from one another. 

We need researchers who can see past a name, who can look at chronic pain and ask the opposite of the Sesame Street song One of These Things (Is Not Like The Others).”

All of these things are like the others, but what about these things are all the same?

Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.”  Carol is the moderator of the Facebook support group “Women in Pain Awareness.” Her blog “The Pained Life” can be found here.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.