The Top 12 Myths of Chronic Pain

Expand your knowledge of what’s true and false with this list of the top 12 myths surrounding chronic pain.

As anyone with chronic pain knows, there is a lot of misinformation out there that can make it extremely difficult to know what is true and what is false. We’ve compiled a list of the top 12 myths of chronic pain. Better understanding pain is a key step in helping you to better treat it.

1. Medication is the only thing that helps

When people hear ‘chronic pain’ and have never suffered through it, they tend to think it’s as easy as popping a couple of painkillers and taking it easy for a few days. However, that is not the case at all. Chronic pain differs from other types of pain in that it’s not as easily treated. For someone with chronic pain, suggesting they take a Paracetamol is similar to telling someone to put a bandaid on a deep gash – pointless and ineffective. 

While medication can definitely assist in treating chronic pain, it is that bandaid approach that is highly unsustainable in the long-term. This is because the body slowly builds up a tolerance to medication, leading patients to need more and more as treatment progresses.

2. The pain is proportionate to the damage

This is another common myth that can be damaging to patients. If pain levels are high, it can be thought that the damage must be high as well, but this isn’t the case. Pain can be a symptom of such a wide variety of things that dictating whether it’s ‘high, medium or low’ in terms of severity won’t solve the underlying issue or even give a hint as to what it might be. 

Chronic pain is highly complex this way, and many patients might find themselves with intense pain that comes from a relatively benign issue. Similarly, patients might find slight amounts of pain occurring with more severe issues. Ever noticed a bruise you don’t remember getting? That’s an example of tissue damage with no pain.

3. It’s more painful than acute pain

When people hear the term ‘chronic pain’, they often make the mistake of thinking it’s more severe or painful than acute pain. But just because a pain has been identified as chronic (by lasting more than 3 months) it does not mean it’s inherently more painful; it just means that it needs different pain management and treatment approaches.

4. Chronic pain sufferers are all addicted to painkillers

On the other hand, there’s a common stigma against those who take painkillers for chronic pain; that being they’re addicted to that painkiller. This is particularly true for those who require heavier medications from the opioid family. 

While it’s true that opioids and stronger painkillers are highly addictive, this doesn’t mean that all who need them fall prey to that addiction. Opioids are administered and monitored by health professionals, and are included in an in-depth treatment plan, not as a standalone way of managing pain. This reduces the risk of patients becoming addicted, and enables them to maintain control over their medications. 

5. Changing your lifestyle will fix it

Sorry, lovers of Kombucha and Keto, chronic pain isn’t solved by just changing a few lifestyle factors and adopting what’s popular that month. While there are definitely healthy lifestyle changes that can be made that does improve chronic pain, such as changing to an anti-inflammatory diet and introducing a daily walk, the majority of health fads and popular diets won’t.

6. Chronic pain is all in your head

“It’s all in the mind”. How many times has that been said to someone experiencing chronic pain? Well unfortunately there are many people out there that believe that, because chronic pain often can’t be seen, it must just be all in the patient’s head. It is true that there’s a mental aspect of chronic pain, and mindset can have a lot to do with the severity, but ultimately, chronic pain is not created by the mind, and to insinuate that can be insulting to those suffering from it.

7. It will last forever

When you’re experiencing chronic pain, it definitely might seem like it will be never-ending. And there’s definitely a myth out there that once you’ve been diagnosed with chronic pain, it will stay with you forever. Given that chronic pain is marked by the passage of time – that being, pain that lasts for more than 3 to 6 months, it’s no wonder people think it just doesn’t go away. But it’s important to understand that yes, chronic pain can and does stop eventually. 

8. Life is less fulfilling

Chronic pain patients might definitely feel this one is true. When you suffer from ongoing pain and have symptoms that range from mild to severe depending on the day, you may feel like your life is less than someone who doesn’t have the same issues. But for chronic pain sufferers, the best thing they can do is remember that their lives can still be as fulfilling and amazing, as full of excitement and opportunity, like anyone else who may not have the same pains.

9. There needs to be a physical cause for chronic pain

For anyone hearing the term chronic pain, it’s common to immediately think of things like arthritis and back pain, where the pain has a physical area that it affects, and it won’t extend anywhere beyond that. But chronic pain isn’t that simple. Often referred to as “the invisible disability”, this sort of pain doesn’t always have a physical area that it affects. 

For sufferers with ailments like fibromyalgia, this myth is especially disconcerting. Fibromyalgia is defined by “generalised pain and muscle stiffness” that can be experienced in a range of different areas of the body, meaning there is no one specific physical cause

10. It’s easy to find out where the pain is coming from

On the back of Myth # 7, people often think that once you’ve been diagnosed with chronic pain, it’s easy to find out where it’s coming from, and that you must do this in order to fix it. For patients who suffer things like arthritis and back pain, it’s sometimes possible to find this out. But for conditions like fibromyalgia as mentioned above, there is often just no definite cause.

This makes it especially difficult for chronic pain patients when they’re working towards finding out what the cause of the pain is, but receiving ongoing medical advice and opinion can assist in reaching a diagnosis.

11. You seem fine, so you must be fine

Chronic pain sufferers who have been dealing with their symptoms and pain for a long time become highly effective at putting on a facade of “I’m okay”. This can be detrimental to their wellbeing, because understating their pain for the purpose of seeming okay can encourage others to think it’s less severe than it really is. 

If you have someone in your life who suffers from chronic pain, it’s important to remember that even on the days where they say they’re okay, to keep in mind it still likely means they’re experiencing some level of pain.

12. Exercise isn’t allowed 

Exercise used to be disproved for chronic pain sufferers for fear of exacerbating the issues. However, research has since shown that exercise can actually be highly effective in assisting in pain management. While it’s important not to overdo it, especially on bad days, implementing a healthy exercise routine is a great way to improve both physical and emotional difficulties that come with chronic pain. 

With all the myths surrounding chronic pain, it’s no wonder it can get confusing for patients. So if you’re suffering from anything that resembles chronic pain, it’s essential to work alongside your doctor to design a suitable pain management approach for your individual circumstances. Our app for chronic pain (update Aug 2023: Pathways is now a web app! Start our program here) is designed to help you on that journey back to wellness.


Please note: This article is made available for educational purposes only, not to provide personal medical advice.

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