Any pain, especially if treated inadequately or over a longer period of time, carries the risk of becoming chronic. The cause is a change of nerve cells at the level of the spinal cord and the brain. Learn more about chronic pain disorders.
Acute pain protects the person
Everyone knows pain, for example, after a cut in the finger or after a bruise. Pain has been used by nature as a warning sign: When you reach for the hot stove, free nerve endings pick up the pain stimuli and transport them in the form of electrical impulses to certain nerve cells in the spinal cord. There, in case of acute pain, a protective reflex is triggered - the hand is removed from the hot stove.
The spinal cord transmits the stimulus to the brain. There the actual pain processing takes place. In the thalamus the pain becomes conscious, in the limbic system the affective-emotional component is added, in the cerebral cortex the origin of the pain is recognized and the feeling is stored as experience.
If the cause of the pain is resolved, the information will probably be deleted within a short time. The pain has served its purpose, the organism moves to the agenda.
If the pain-processing nerve cells are exposed to strong stimuli for a long time, it can lead to the development of a pain memory. That is, the brain is still pain signals even if the root cause has long been eliminated. Ultimately, the involved nerve cells become more sensitive and even treat light stimuli or touch as pain or give pain impulses without a cause.
If it has already come to a pain chronification, then it is currently not possible to erase an acquired pain memory pharmacologically.
So-called counter-irritation procedures such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) or electro-acupuncture may in some cases reduce the increased sensitivity of the nervous system in the spinal cord. Acute pain, especially inadequate treatment, can be painful chronic pain. But not every acute pain becomes chronic. This indicates that the body's own factors are opposed to chronicity. Such antichronification factors have so far been little researched.