What is a pain disorder?

August 24, 2021 0

Severe, prolonged pain can significantly interfere with an individual’s ability to function and enjoy everyday life.

Pain disorders are the top reason to seek care, the #1 cause of disability and opioid addiction, and the primary driver of healthcare utilization, costing more than cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Many people experience chronic pain disorders. This can including people with jaw, neck and back, shoulder joint pain, and many other sorts of aches and pains. Chances are that you have been told at some point in your life that you have some type of pain problem and in some cases, you may have been told that there is little help for your pain. But how accurate are these ideas about chronic pain? What is the role of a health professional in treating a pain disorder?

“Risk factors play a significant role in just about all chronic illnesses and particularly chronic pain; so why not train the patient at the same time as you treat the patient. The health professional’s role then becomes one of transformation, one of helping a person really change their entire lives, or whatever factors may be contributing to health and wellness”. – James R. Fricton DDS MS

What is a pain disorder?

A pain disorder is a physical condition that has pain as the major symptom. There may be many other symptoms including swelling, tightness, tenderness, and others depending upon the location. The most common pain disorder is myofascial pain, characterized by pain and tender trigger points in the skeletal muscles. This is followed by joint pain from arthritis, disk disorders, and arthralgia. Neuropathic and neuralgic pain symptoms are common and treatable. Receiving medical care as soon as possible typically helps prevent or lessen problems.

There is no concrete definition of what a pain disorder is. Some people feel they have experienced chronic pain throughout their lives, but this isn’t necessarily a chronic pain disorder unless it has lasted for more than 6 months and causes significant disruption in your life.

A pain disorder is chronic pain experienced by a patient in one or more areas. The pain is often so severe that it disables the patient from normal functioning. The duration may be as short as a few days or as long as many years.

What Causes a Pain Disorder?

There are many causes for pain disorders, such as injuries or trauma, but some are caused by risk factors in all realms of a person’s life. The many numbers, diversity, and interrelationships of risk factors seen in patients with pain make assessment and understanding of them for each person a time-consuming and complex process.

Assessment can be facilitated by having an understanding of all potential risk factors and by using psychometrically derived tests that are designed to initially identify them. Understanding the whole person is the key to high-quality effective long-term success. A major frustration for people with pain, is the lack of understanding of what factors are causing their pain condition.

Whether the reason is lack of compliance, secondary gain, or family stress, the interplay between behavioral and psychosocial risk factors is often responsible for this failure. Some of these risk factors may be initiating and lead to the onset of the symptoms; some are perpetuating and lead to a continuation of the symptoms, and some are resultant as a product of having the illness.

Because each of these factors may be part of the problem and may complicate successful management, each needs to be evaluated. Once these factors are identified as part of the problem list, long-term successful management that considers risk factors on an equal and integrated basis with physical factors can follow. Treating one and not the other may prevent immediate symptom reduction or prevent maintenance of relief.

Common examples include traumatic injury, fibromyalgia, and tennis elbow. Some researchers believe there could be up to 100 million people globally affected by pain disorders. More than half of the persons seeking care for pain conditions at 1 month still have pain 5 years later despite treatment due to the many lifestyle risk factors that lead to delayed recovery and chronic pain due to lack of patient self-management training, assesses the MN Head & Neck Pain Clinic.

This delayed recovery is primarily due to the lack of addressing many patient-centered risk factors such as poor ergonomics, repetitive strain, inactivity, prolonged sitting, stress, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, abuse, and many others that increase peripheral and central pain sensitization and lead to chronic pain and its consequences of disability, work loss, and addiction.14-19 54 Words in one sentence.

If you are experiencing prickling, tingling, or numb sensations of nerve damage and want to know how to prevent and treat this painful disorder, contact the MN Head & Neck Pain Clinic.

When does pain become a pain disorder?

It is commonly called a pain disorder when an abnormal, persistent pain that doesn’t respond to treatment over a specified time by the patient’s pain specialist. Common causes include inflammatory conditions, stress, orthopedic injuries, musculoskeletal issues, and others. Individuals with chronic pain may require prescription medication and/or therapy to manage their symptoms. The American Pain Society estimates there are over 200 million pain patients in the U.S., with an estimated 50 million Americans having chronic pain not caused by an injury.

According to the CDC, “In 2016, an estimated 20.4% of U.S. adults had chronic pain and 8.0% of U.S. adults had high-impact chronic pain”. We know that number has increased due to COVID-19 and additional social and economic stressors.

How does a having a pain disorder impact the average patient?

If you have a pain disorder, you may have sensory symptoms that trigger pain every day during your normal routines. Numbness and burning or stinging may be your only two constant feelings. People suffering from neuropathic pain often feel constant pain throughout their bodies even when they aren’t injured. A neuropathic condition can affect everyday activities like bathing, writing, eating, sleeping, or even driving. So let’s get to some answers.

Pain disorders are conditions that affect how you feel and communicate with your body. Many people with chronic pain experience persistent symptoms even when they don’t have an actual diagnosis of the condition. Chronic pain such as head, neck, and back pain occurs at epidemic levels in the United States causing significant suffering, functional limitations, addiction, and missed work.

As a result, chronic pain has become the highest-cost condition in all of health care with the use of high-cost passive treatments such as medications, rehabilitation, injections, surgery, and implanted devices in an attempt to alleviate the pain.

Early diagnosis and treatment may significantly reduce the impact of having a pain disorder on the patient. An untreated pain disorder, may need a specific diagnosis, like myofascial pain, occipital neuralgia, or chronic TMJ.

Symptoms of a Pain Disorder may include:

  • A marked change in a person’s passivity, disability or inactivity level.
  • Other individuals can notice that a person has unusual negative or distorted cognition.
  • Increased levels of depression and anxiety.
  • Increased levels of sleeplessness and fatigue.
  • An overwhelming sense of helplessness or hopelessness in regard to the person pain and its management.
  • Increased levels of confusion and turmoil in personal relationships (family, friends, and/or work).

When Physically Perceived pain Lasts More than 6 Months

This represents when a person has sustained pain over a longer period of time. It tugs on the heart of everyone who knows them and sees them in pain. Getting a diagnosis for a possible hidden pain disorder and treatment is critical.

Even with the social and personal impact, the dilemma of the patient with chronic pain seeking healthcare is often profound. When initial efforts to find pain relief fail, care often escalates to higher-cost, higher-risk passive interventions. Too often this has included the negative use of ongoing opioid analgesics, polypharmacy, implantable devices, injections, physical therapies, and surgeries. Most people with pain after 30 days still have pain 5 years later regardless of having extensive treatment, finds staff at the mhnpc.com.

This means that chronic pain is now a major healthcare problem primarily due to a lack of early diagnosis before it turns into a disorder. MHNPC is doing better at engaging, empowering, and educating patients in reducing the risk factors and enhancing the protective factors earlier on.

What is Neuralgia pain?

Neuralgia is when a person’s neck and head pain results from injury or irritation to the nerves. It can be caused by trauma, such as a car accident, by a pinched nerve root in the neck (from arthritis, for example) or by “tight” muscles at the back or base of the head. This may occur if the trauma entrapped the nerves and they are no longer able to function normally.

Common symptoms of neuropathic facial pain include intense pain in joints and areas of the face and neck that don’t feel connected properly, sleep problems, anxiety, and muscle stiffness.

A Pain Disorder is Different from Acute Pain

A chronic pain condition is an illness that causes extreme pain in one area or dorsal wall of the body. For example, people who suffer from fibromyalgia may experience widespread chronic pain that doesn’t respond to other treatments. Most people with fibromyalgia feel better when they try to avoid situations that cause pain, but this may not be the case if the pain continues to signal discomfort even when it isn’t felt directly.

While pain is an indicator that something is wrong with the body, some people may feel that is unfair, or wrong if left ongoing. While there is no one, widely agreed-upon scientific definition of what a pain disorder is, widespread consensus exists that it should be addressed quickly by a qualified pain specialist.

The term pain is often used as a synonym with discomfort or a lack of satisfaction with a painful experience. But the two are distinct. Pain can be debilitating and disabling. It can lead to severe depression and psychological trauma. If left untreated, it can become a “pain disorder” and lead to serious health problems including heart disease, nerve damage, arthritis, and gout.

Does a Paroxysmal Extreme Pain Disorder Affect the Head, Face, and Jaw More with Aging?

As a person with a paroxysmal extreme pain disorder ages, the location of pain changes. Pain attacks switch from affecting the lower body to affecting the head and face, especially the eyes and jaw. Triggers of these pain attacks include changes in temperature (such as a cold wind) and emotional distress as well as eating spicy foods and drinking cold drinks, according to medlineplus.gov.

The Minnesota Head and Neck Pain Clinic has replaced the passive model of doctor-centered care with patient-centered transformative care. Our health professional specialists help each patient learn ways to relieve and prevent ongoing pain with transformative care. Aging is natural. As well, life for everyone includes some moments that are more stressful than others.

How to Prevent On-going Pain Disorders

The best way to prevent an ongoing pain disorder, is to seek diagnosis and treatment early on. It helps to know where to turn when stress or pain becomes overwhelming.

At that point, whether called a pain disorder or a pain syndrome, the NIH’s advice applies. “Poor circulation can impede nerve and tissue healing. This can deprive underlying muscles and deeper tissues of oxygen and nutrients, which can cause muscle weakness and joint pain. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician (or pain specialist) who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient’s medical history.”

Preventing pain disorders includes preventing the onset and longevity of chronic pain. It also involves the progression of acute to chronic pain, and the progression from chronic to intractable pain. People suffering from a painful disorder to the head, face, and/or jaw deserve professional care that addresses the whole person and avoids multiple conflicting medications.

Get help for your pain today! We can help you assess a chronic pain disorder by measuring your pain levels and other parameters, such as the pain intensity, symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and your pain-related quality of life.

SUMMARY: Recommending Pain Disorder Management Strategies

There are many contributing factors to chronic pain, including genetics, body structures, hormonal imbalances, and assessing medications the patient may be taking. In our clinic, health psychologists, physical therapists, and skilled pain specialists work with patients to achieve their goal of maintaining relief from the gradual-onset musculoskeletal pain disorders, trauma, and muscle fatigue. We also incorporate online training and telemedicine to help patients identify and control risk factors that are causing their pain condition.

Call us at 763-577-2484 or request an appointment at our clinic nearest your location.

About the Author

James Fricton DDS, MS, co-founder of the MN Head and Neck Pain Clinic, takes great joy in helping patients recover or from pain disorders or lessen their pain levels.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.


Our mission is to provide high-quality, effective patient care for head and neck disorders through a multispecialty, interdisciplinary approach designed to reduce pain and improve function for all our patients.

3475 Plymouth Blvd # 200, Minneapolis, MN 55447

Recent Posts


Plymouth: (763) 577-2484
Fax: (763) 577-1375

St. Paul: (651) 332-7474
Fax: (651) 332-7475

Burnsville: (952) 892-6222
Fax: (952) 892-6477

St. Cloud: (763) 233-7252
Fax: (952) 892-6477

Copyright by Minnesota Neck and Pain Clinic 2024. All rights reserved.