What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is pain which lasts for longer than 3 months. Normally when we injure ourselves, we feel pain – this is useful as it helps us to avoid damaging that part of our body until it has had chance to heal. Chronic pain is different and lasts beyond the normal healing time. We now know that the problem is in the pain-sensing system itself, and the pain is of little use to us.

Quick Facts about Chronic Pain
  • Is pain that lasts longer than 3 months
  • Is thought to affect one in seven people
  • May not respond to usual treatments, but can be affected by mood
  • Is not ‘in your head’

Chronic pain can be felt in specific parts of the body (legs, arms, back etc.), or everywhere. It may be continuous, or come and go. Sometimes it can get worse very quickly – this is called a “flare-up”

Living with Chronic Pain can affect people in many ways. As well as the physical sensations, there can be changes in activity, mood and relationships. Living with Chronic Pain can be a real challenge and it is important to work together with your healthcare team to treat you as a person, rather than just the pain itself. Chronic Pain can be difficult to treat as not all treatments work for all people – it can take time to find what works best for you.

Why do People Get Chronic Pain?

There is still a lot we don’t understand about pain, and why some people develop pain while others don’t. Sometimes the pain can continue after an injury has healed, but sometimes the pain begins without an obvious injury. Sometimes when nerves are damaged they can become very excitable and sensitive even after they have healed.

While we don’t always know why people’s pain started, we do know that managing moods like stress, frustration, depression and anxiety can help change the sensitivity of damaged nerves, and so lessen the pain. It is the same if someone is distracted, or focussed on an activity.

Managing Chronic pain

Everyone’s pain is different, and so how people manage their pain will vary from person to person. The links in the ‘Useful Resources’ section below may help you to make the most of skill-set you already have, or teach you new skills to help you manage your pain.

If you would like to discuss Chronic Pain and how to manage it with a GP, please make an appointment



Most people who experience chronic pain have good days and bad days. Sometimes the pain can get much worse, very quickly and without warning - this is called a flare-up. Flare-Ups are a normal part of chronic pain, and do not mean that your medication has stopped working. It is important to remember that a flare up will always settle down.

Click here for more information about Flare-Ups


Useful Resources

Often the best information we get on resources available comes from patients. If you find a helpful resource that is not listed here, let us know so that we can share it with other patients.

Chronic Pain Scotland

This is where to get reliable information and advice about how to help with chronic pain. It has been developed for patients, their carers and the public as well as healthcare professionals. You will also find information provided by local Service Improvement Groups.

Pain Toolkit

The Pain Toolkit helps people all over the world self-manage their chronic pain. It has lots of helpful videos, tips and advice on how to self manage pain, as well as a link to an app which can help you to learn to manage your pain.

Pain Concern (Helpline: 0300 123 0789)

Pain Concern is a charity working to support and inform people with pain and those who care for them, whether family, friends or healthcare professionals. They believe that pain is best faced together by the ‘Pain Community’ of people with pain, their family, supporters and healthcare professionals. They produce information to provide support and raise awareness for those with pain in the form of podcasts, videos, leaflets and a magazine “Pain Matters”. They also run a helpline for those in pain.

Pain Association Scotland

Pain Association Scotland is a national charity that delivers professionally led pain management in the community. The service is specifically designed to target those in the community who are affected by Chronic Pain Conditions. They address the non-medical issues which impact on people’s lives. The service is open to anyone regardless of diagnosis, at any time and provides a high quality staff led community based service for people burdened with all forms of chronic pain.

The British Pain Society

The British Pain Society is the largest multidisciplinary organisation in the field of pain in the UK. The link provides information that may be of use to people living with pain, including a list of UK-based patient organisations, a frequently asked questions section and a suggested reading section.


Pain Management Programme

The NHS Lothian Pain Management Programme is led by a team of Physiotherapists and Psychologists. It is based on the best evidence for managing persistent pain and is considered to be the “Gold Standard” treatment.

Click here for more information on the Pain Management Programme


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