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 depression.
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 their heads.

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 Clinic
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 relieving interventions.

Alongside the medical approach pain clinics also offer specialist physiotherapy, TENS (Transcutaneous Nerve Stimulation), Acupuncture and Psychological interventions.

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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