With chronic pain cases, pain itself may become the disease. Pain is said to become chronic after three months of continued pain, and in some cases the nervous system stays in a state of reactivity after the initial injury or illness has healed. This state of pain hypersensitivity often causes pain above and beyond the pain of the original condition. This heightened state is called “central sensitization” and is characterized by increasingly widespread and intense pain. The heightened pain signals can radiate to areas peripheral to the original injury, and in some cases to unrelated parts of your body.
The emotional toll of this kind of chronic pain should not be underestimated. Pain and your mood go hand-in-hand, so the stress of chronic pain can lead to a vicious cycle. Prolonged periods of pain can lead to anxiety, irritability, poor sleep, fatigue, and depression. The stress of these psychological problems add to the reactivity of the nervous system, which worsens the pain.
Chronic pain from central sensitization can occur with all pain conditions, including acute spine injuries, whiplash injuries, failed back surgery syndrome, and disorders of the spine. Chronic pain lasts for weeks, months, even years. Generally, it is diagnosed after three to six months of pain.