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Symptoms of Chronic Pain

Updated on August 10, 2021
Medically reviewed by
James Cyriac, M.D.
Article written by
Kelly Crumrin

Chronic pain comes in many varieties. People with chronic pain often experience other symptoms that exacerbate pain and worsen disability.

Pain Sensations

People with chronic pain describe many different pain sensations. Different types of chronic pain are often associated with specific varieties of pain. Providing information about the specific type of pain you feel can sometimes provide doctors with clues during diagnosis. Types of chronic pain include:

  • Shooting pain
  • Burning pain
  • Stabbing pain
  • Dull pain
  • Throbbing pain
  • Stinging pain
  • Electrical pain
  • Aching pain
  • Cutting pain
  • Drilling pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Pins and needles sensation
  • Pressure
  • Discomfort
  • Soreness
  • Tightness
  • Stiffness

Breakthrough Pain

Breakthrough pain occurs when you are taking medication to control pain, but pain flares and “breaks through” the effects of the medication. Breakthrough pain may happen as your body becomes more tolerant to pain medication, making the medication less effective. In some people, flares of breakthrough pain tend to be triggered by certain activities or circumstances. Triggers for pain flares vary widely depending on the underlying cause of the pain, but may include:

  • Cold weather or changes in the weather
  • Too much or certain types of physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Psychological stress
  • Eating certain foods
  • Menstrual periods in women
  • Bright light

Researchers have estimated that about 70 percent of people with chronic pain experience flares of breakthrough pain. Some medications are specifically designated to treat breakthrough pain.

Psychological Symptoms of Chronic Pain

Many people with chronic pain experience depression and anxiety. Stress may be overwhelming. Depression, anxiety, and stress may worsen pain, and pain flares may worsen psychological distress in a vicious cycle. People with chronic pain can find themselves becoming irritable with loved ones.

General Symptoms

Fatigue is a common symptom of chronic pain. People with chronic pain may feel exhausted and in need of rest even with plenty of sleep.

People with chronic pain often experience insomnia – either trouble getting to sleep or disrupted sleep. Sleep deprivation can worsen pain, which can worsen insomnia.

Many people with chronic pain report cognitive symptoms, or “brain fog,” such as memory issues and trouble finding the right word.

Some people with chronic pain have weakened immune systems. They may contract infections more easily than other people and recover more slowly.

Read about treatments for chronic pain.

Condition Guide

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
James Cyriac, M.D. is assistant clinical professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at UC Irvine Health. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Kelly Crumrin is a senior editor at MyHealthTeam and leads the creation of content that educates and empowers people with chronic illnesses. Learn more about her here.

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