Chronic Pain in Young Adults
The Problem of Chronic Pain
Being a student is an exciting and challenging time in life. Young people face
many changes, such as leaving home, demands of further education and starting
work. Friendships and relationships change and often become more important. All
young people have these pressures but for some life may be further complicated
by chronic pain.
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is pain that persists for longer than three months. It can affect
any part of the body e.g. headache, abdominal pain, back pain, muscle and joint
pain. For most people chronic pain is associated with reduced energy, low mood
and frequently feeling unwell.
What causes Chronic Pain?
No one knows for sure what causes chronic pain. We do know that breaking a bone
hurts and as the fracture heals the pain reduces and then goes with no lasting
problems. However, for some people an injury like a fracture can trigger chronic
pain and that can remain long after the healing is complete. People can also
develop chronic pain after an illness like flu or glandular fever, while others
suffer it for no clear reason. Some people have chronic pain as part of an
ongoing illness e.g. arthritis.
Effects of Chronic Pain
The challenge of chronic pain is that nobody knows how long it will last or how
it will change over time. This means the impact on young adults’ lives can be
devastating. Young adults stop doing fun things because it can be difficult to
be spontaneous and join in social events. Concentrating is hard and memory is
often poorer so studying can be affected and grades may drop. Fitness levels can
drop too as exercise may be painful. This can lead to frustration, anxiety and
On top of this many young adults have commented that people, including health
care professionals, have said that the pain they feel is not real and just in
How to get help
Medication, physiotherapy, occupational, psychological and alternative
therapies, like acupuncture, can all contribute to managing chronic pain.
First Stop - GP
Your GP is the first point of contact to get help. The GP will listen to your
symptoms and if necessary investigate any potential causes of the pain. You may
be referred to a Consultant like an Orthopaedic Surgeon for back pain or a
Neurologist for headache. You will then be directed to the right course of
treatment for you. However, for some people pain may prove tricky to treat and a
referral to a pain clinic may be made.
Pain clinics are usually led by anaesthetists – doctors that specialise in the
medical management of pain. Pain medication can be ‘optimised’. This means
getting the best pain relief with the fewest side effects from the drugs. This
is different for every person. Some pain clinics may offer more invasive pain
Alongside the medical approach pain clinics also offer specialist physiotherapy,
TENS (Transcutaneous Nerve Stimulation), Acupuncture and Psychological
Exercise is important for people with pain, pushing through pain or stopping a
movement due to pain does not help in the long term. So, seeing a
physiotherapist skilled in working with people with chronic pain is helpful.
Pain Management Programmes
Pain Management Programmes enable people of all ages to live well with ongoing
pain. There are many type of programme and most parts of the country have access
to them. Some are more intensive than others.
The Bath Centre for Pain Services has developed a programme for young people.
The programme focuses on the challenges faced by young adults with chronic pain.
It enables them to understand their pain and develop an approach to life through
which they can live well with the pain they have. The programme addresses all
areas of a young adult’s life including social life, studying, work, independent
living, relationships, fitness and mood. It is run by a team including clinical
psychologists, doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and nurses.
Groups of young people all facing similar challenges provides an opportunity to
learn from and support each other. Most young people say the programme is hard
work, helps them improve their life and fun.
Article kindly donated by the Bath Centre for Pain Services
For further information visit
Dr Hannah Connell - Clinical Lead
Bath Centre for Pain Services
Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases
Upper Borough Walls
Tel: (01225) 473437
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