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Pain is a way for your central nervous system to signal that something is wrong in your body.  Pain can vary greatly from sharp to dull or from constant to off and on. Also, pain can come from anywhere in the body.  Usually, pain is separated into two categories, acute pain and chronic pain (1).

  • Acute pain: Acute pain is a normal physiological response to damage or potential damage to the tissues.  The acute pain usually stops when the source of the pain resolves (2,3).
  • Chronic pain: Chronic pain long outlives its original cause.  It usually worsens over time and takes on a life of its own.  The American Medical Association describes it as pain that lasts for six months or longer.  Recent research has shown that chronic pain is destructive to the body.  The longer chronic pain goes untreated, the worse it becomes.  Chronic pain unleashes a cascade of harmful hormones, such as cortisol, that adversely affect the immune system and kidney function.  It is not normal and does not serve a function.  Often the exact cause of the chronic pain is unclear.  Chronic pain often leads to behaviors that lead to unhealthy behavior patterns, such as inactivity (2,3).


  • Injury
  • Surgery
  • Being female
  • Obesity
  • Increased age (4)


  • Pain that can be described as a dull ache, throbbing, burning, shooting, squeezing, stinging, soreness, or stiffness.

Additional symptoms may include:

  • Decrease appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in mood
  • Weakness
  • A lack of energy (5)


In 2010, an estimated 100 million Americans suffered from chronic pain.  Some estimates say that chronic pains cost between $560 billion and $635 billion (in 2010 dollars) in the United States, which combines the medical costs of pain care and the economic costs related to disability days and lost wages and productivity (6).

According to a National Institute of Health Statistics survey, 27% of respondents reported having lower back pain, 15% reported having severe headaches or migraine pain, and 15% reported having neck pain (6).

Over 26 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 65 experience frequent back pain making it the leading cause of disability in Americans under the age of 45 (6).


  • Opioids work directly on the opioid receptor.  Opioid receptors are molecules or receptor sites in the body that capture the opioid molecule and begin a cascade of events that eventually helps reduce pain.  However, activation of the opioid receptor only leads to a minimal reduction in pain.  Opioids are the least effective treatment for acute or chronic pain and have the most side effects of all treatments (7).
  • Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are effective over the counter drugs for acute pain but have little or no effect on the pain that is caused by central sensitization. Adding acetaminophen to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can be an effective way to improve pain relief. In fact, in Europe, there are products that combine the two. But one study shows the combination could potentially increase the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. Perhaps more disturbing is that an acetaminophen overdose can also lead to acute liver damage, which could be deadly (8).
  • Amitriptyline is an antidepressant and may be helpful for chronic pain.  This drug has a black box warning. This is the most serious warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A black box warning alerts doctors and patients about drug effects that may be dangerous.  Amitriptyline can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior in children, adolescents, and young adults. Your doctor and family members should watch you closely for signs of changes in your behavior or worsening depression when you start taking this drug (9,10).
  • Gabapentin: Neurontin and pregabalin are used for chronic neuropathic pain.  May cause side effects like drowsiness, depression, and multiorgan hypersensitivity (DRESS) (11).
  • Muscle relaxers: seldom benefit chronic pain and can be deadly when used with opioids. May cause serotonin syndrome, heart arrhythmias, drowsiness, dizziness, hallucinations, and delusions (12,13).
  • Surgery based on the cause of pain (14)


Practices to Help Relieve Pain:

  • Acupuncture (15)
  • Biofeedback (16)
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) (17)
  • Exercise Therapy (Active Therapy) (18)
  • Massage Therapy (19,20)
  • Weight Loss (21)

Natural Supplements That Help Relieve Pain:


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For more information on chronic pain and diagnosis:  1. Talk to your doctor  2. Visit the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website 3. Visit the National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health website