Why We Must Ditch the Term 'Chronic Pain'

By Janice Reynolds, Guest Columnist

The term “chronic pain” is being used as a weapon against people living in pain.  People who are prejudiced and biased against pain sufferers often use it in derogatory way, to imply their pain is not that bad or that they are even lying about it.

Over 15 years ago, some members of the American Society for Pain Management Nursing, including myself, recognized the negative connotation of the term and attempted to change it to “persistent pain,” obviously without much success. 

“Chronic” only means a time frame of 3 months or more. No one knows how it became a term to mean a “type” of pain. 

When I was an oncology nurse, I did some research on the biological differences between cancer pain and “non-cancer” pain, and didn’t find any. No one knew how the differentiation came to be. There was no evidence to support it.

Chronic pain does not exist as an entity; it applies to many different types of pain syndromes and diseases. So when someone says there is no evidence to support using opioids for chronic pain or that opioids make chronic pain worse, these are outright lies. Or if you want to be kinder, false assumptions based on erroneous evidence. Research based on false principles.

One of the things the so-called opioid epidemic has done is given some validity to these prejudices and biases to justify the war on people in pain. The abuse by politicians and the media is too complicated to go into here, but when you have someone like Sen. Susan Collins of Maine saying pain management is important for cancer patients or end-of-life care, but addiction is a bigger problem for chronic pain patients, then it is obvious that “chronic pain” is being used as a bludgeon.

What is one thing people in pain, advocates and providers can do?

Stop using the term “chronic pain” and start using the condition or disease that causes the pain.

I have persistent post craniotomy pain, for example. You might have pain from fibromyalgia. Or pain from arachnoiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, shingles, migraine, peripheral neuropathy, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and so on.  Be specific. There are many reasons for back pain, neuropathies and other syndromes.

When we talk or write about persistent pain, use the terms “people in pain” or “people living in pain.” I want organizations to throw the term “chronic pain” out as well. How much more supportive is the name “American Association for People in Pain” as opposed to the American Chronic Pain Association?

This will be a difficult paradigm to change, especially for professionals and journalists. But without change, “chronic pain” will continue to be used as a tool for hate.  

Janice Reynolds is a retired nurse who specialized in pain management, oncology, and palliative care. She has lectured across the country at medical conferences on different aspects of pain and pain management, and is co-author of several articles in peer reviewed journals. 

Janice has lived with persistent post craniotomy pain since 2009.  She is active with The Pain Community and writes several blogs for them, including a regular one on cooking with pain. 

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