A middle-aged African American male winces in pain as he grabs his neck.

If you are living with pain, you’re not alone. Almost 20 per cent of Canadians live with chronic pain. Among people with neurological conditions the prevalence is closer to 40 per cent. Chronic pain is difficult to treat, and it can take a lot of trial and error to discover a combination of treatments and strategies that bring you some relief from chronic pain

On this page, we’ll discuss what chronic pain is, some frequently occurring symptoms, conditions that cause chronic pain and frequently used treatments.

A close-up of an icepack that has been placed on a young female's bare shoulder.

What is Chronic Pain?

Acute pain is experienced right after an injury and is directly related to soft tissue damage. It arises quickly and can be severe but usually lasts a short period of time and is relatively straightforward to treat. Like Tylenol for a toothache, for example.

When pain lasts more than six months it changes how pain is experienced in the nervous system.

Chronic pain symptoms may be related to medical conditions like multiple sclerosis or cancer, or it may be due to an injury or arthritis. Chronic pain is complex and challenging to treat, and it can get worse in response to environmental or psychological factors.

Our attention can amplify our awareness of physical symptoms, and increase their intensity when we focus on them. This can be a good thing in the case of acute pain: we should pay attention to the sudden onset of strong physical symptoms.

With chronic pain, we may still experience strong physical symptoms, but paying attention to the symptoms of chronic pain doesn’t help improve the situation. In fact, the more important we make strong physical symptoms and focus our attention on them, the more unpleasant they become.

What are Some Symptoms of Chronic Pain?


Musculoskeletal pain is usually dull or aching, and it mostly happens during certain movements and positions. Musculoskeletal pain is due to changes in bone, tendons, or joints.


Visceral pain comes from internal organs like the stomach or bladder. It can be hard to know where visceral pain is coming from. Usually it feels dull or tender, like cramping, and is caused by problems like constipation or bladder infections.


Neuropathic pain is often a burning, tingling, pins and needles, or electric shock feeling that can be felt anywhere in the body. Neuropathic pain can happen spontaneously or be caused by things that don’t normally cause pain, like the pressure of a child sitting on your lap. It can be felt far away from where the damaged nerve is.

Examples of Common Chronic Pain Conditions

There are a wide range of conditions that can cause varying levels of chronic pain. Some examples of chronic pain causing conditions include:

  • Injuries
  • Back issues (nerve compression, muscle strains, etc.)
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Surgical trauma
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Chronic headaches or migraines
  • Shingles
  • Nerve damage
  • Cancer (particularly advanced cancers)

Some of these conditions may allow for recovery; however, in some cases chronic pain may continue long after the healing process.

An elderly asian male leans forward and clutches his lower back in pain.

Services available at Chronic Pain Clinics

Your doctor will work with you to determine a potential reason for your chronic pain. Usually, this will take the form of questions, an examination and additional tests (if necessary). Even if a specific reason is not found (often there is no reason found), this assessment is important for your doctor to understand your pain. This will help them work with you, in order to develop a plan that may help.

Your doctor may refer you to a chronic pain clinic. Chronic pain clinics, also sometimes called pain management clinics, specialize in helping you learn pain control techniques that you can apply in your daily life. They can also assist with any medications or injections that you may need help administering.

Different regions have different clinics and self-management programs available, with different areas of focus and interdisciplinary teams.

If you think this service would benefit you, we encourage you to speak with your doctor about pain management clinics in your area.

If you’d like to learn more about where to find and access pain clinics in Canada, you can visit our page here for more information.

Common Chronic Pain Treatments

Pain is complex and a holistic approach to treatments and strategies is important to help you manage your pain. This can include physiotherapy, counselling, medication, and other strategies determined with your health care team and support system. 

Some frequently used medical treatments for chronic pain include:

  • Physical therapy (to increase range of motion, mobility, strength and flexibility)
  • Behavioral or Psychological therapy (to increase positive outlook and manage symptoms like anxiety and depression)
  • Medications (to relieve pain or block nerves to interrupt pain signals)

Your health care team may also suggest you explore learning new skills and strategies that can be helpful chronic pain treatments.

One strategy is called mindfulness. Mindfulness begins with learning to focus your attention on the sensations of your breathing and your body. When your attention drifts you will learn to  acknowledge the thought, and then disengage, by returning your attention back to your breathing. Mindfulness can help shift the experience of pain, by interrupting the connection between the sensory experience, and your evaluation of what the pain means.

Another strategy you can learn is guided imagery. In guided imagery, you can play an active role in your healing process, by imagining a relaxing situation or a scene; reducing inputs that are causing stress and moving your brain off high alert. 

Visit our chronic pain management page for more information.

A young white male sleeps soundly in his bed.

Other Ways of Finding Relief from Chronic Pain

If you have chronic pain you may also at times struggle with getting a good night’s sleep. When everything is quiet and your body is still, it can be hard not to focus on your symptoms. You may find yourself getting into a negative feedback loop; where your pain disrupts your sleep, and then the lack of sleep makes your symptoms worse the next day.

Building good sleep habits can help. This could involve a consistent bedtime routine and bedtime, keeping electronic devices out of your bedroom, as well as avoiding large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bed. But if your pain is bad, sometimes you may need to work with your healthcare team to consider other options.

Some people that have had an injury resulting in pain, might start avoiding activities in fear that they may re-injure themselves. Other people may do the opposite and push through the pain, even when it may not be safe. In both cases, there are many negative effects on cardiovascular fitness, mood, and sense of well-being.

Pacing is a way to find balance between these two unhealthy coping strategies. It allows those that avoid activity due to fear of re-injury, to build towards activities by slowly starting with easier tasks and working their way up in difficulty. Those that are more likely to push through their pain can use pacing to break down tasks into smaller time intervals, and then slowly build on them over time.

It sounds easy, but pacing actually needs some awareness and effort to master. Often our mind wants to push our body beyond its current capacity. We get into the flow of an activity and don’t want to stop. However, through experience and carefully noticing our responses to particular activities, we become aware of what we can manage. This is true for activities that we enjoy, as much as for activities that feel more like work.


Cortree Has the Tools to Help You Manage Your Chronic Pain

Sometimes it can feel like it is impossible to control pain. Chronic pain can be exhausting and discouraging. You may not know where to find support and chronic pain relief.

Can anything be done?  Yes, but it can be hard and can mean a big change. And it will take time.

So, if you’re ready and willing, we want to help you recover those other parts of your life that have been affected by the struggle with pain.