It happens to the best of us; one day you’re perfectly fine then and then the next something goes wrong and you get an injury—a deep cut on your knee, a torn ligament, a back sprain. Now you have to deal with acute pain for days, weeks, or even months. While it can be easy to describe acute pain, which often occurs when there’s damage to your tissues, chronic pain can be difficult to describe. Chronic pain negatively affects an individual’s family, work, and social environment.

Even though chronic pain starts with an injury, it lasts longer than acute pain. It usually persists more than three months, even after the tissue has healed. Chronic pain affects 20.4 percent of the American adult population and is the leading cause of long-term disability globally.

It’s no wonder that chronic pain can be stressful and exhausting. With so many misconceptions and misinformation out there, it can be even harder to live with chronic pain. It’s important that you know what’s true and what’s false.

With that in mind, here are the five biggest misconceptions about chronic pain and the reality of how you can live with this difficult condition.

Myth 1: Chronic Pain is a Normal Part of Aging

You’ve probably heard someone say “pain comes with age.” While it’s true that aches and pains occur naturally as you get older, chronic pain isn’t a condition you can limit to a specific age group. Understand that chronic pain differs from the pain experienced as a result of the physical wear and tear that comes with age.

Chronic pain may arise from an injury or an ongoing cause and is often accompanied by other health problems, such as poor appetite, lack of sleep, mood changes, and fatigue. However, it’s possible for chronic pain to have no clear cause. With age comes health conditions that are likely to cause chronic pain, such as low back pain, bursitis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Be sure to see a doctor or pain and spine specialists as soon as your pain becomes chronic or begins to interfere with your life.

Myth 2: All Chronic Pain is the Same

Chronic pain can occur in various locations and parts of the body for different reasons. Examples of chronic pain include:

  • Musculoskeletal pain resulting from the pain in your ligaments, bones, muscles, tendons, and joints
  • Neuropathic pain resulting from damage to your nervous system
  • Cancer pain as a result of the tumour pressing on your body organs, bones, or nerves.

Each of these kinds of chronic pain will require different kinds of treatment. For example,

treating musculoskeletal pain, such as osteoarthritis, often involves strengthening the affected muscles through physical therapy and spinal manipulation. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen are an effective treatment option as well, but must be used cautiously.  Cancer patients, on the other hand, often use opioids to relieve pain, while neuropathic chronic pain, such as diabetic neuropathy, may require medications that target nerve pain.

Myth 3: Medication is the Only Way to Treat Chronic Pain

For most people—especially those who have never suffered through this difficult condition—the first thing that comes to mind when they hear “chronic pain” is “painkillers.” Medication can help treat chronic pain but it can’t be the only approach, especially for long-term effectiveness and sustainability. An effective treatment plan for this condition should involve a combination of classic drug treatments, physical therapy, and exercise. In some cases, your healthcare professional may include alternative medicine approaches such as mindfulness meditation, acupuncture, yoga or massage therapy.

Myth 4: You Can Tough It Out

Whereas acute pain, for the most part, is a normal sensation that resolves when the cause of injury or inflammation is treated and healing occurs, chronic pain persists for months or even longer. Chronic pain can make it difficult for a person to carry out important and/or enjoyable activities, leading to disability and despair. Toughing it out isn’t the best approach because inaction can actually compound the problem. Don’t self-diagnose or self-medicate yourself, which could lead to disastrous consequences. Find a healthcare professional with whom you’ll work together to identify the cause and symptoms of your chronic pain and find the most effective treatment plan for you.

Myth 5: Chronic Pain is all in your Head

The chronic pain you’re experiencing is not “in your head.” It’s not uncommon for people experiencing chronic pain to feel this way. While a person’s mindset can influence the severity of the condition, it’s not possible for their mind to create the pain. Truth is, chronic pain can cause someone to experience a vicious psychological and physical cycle. The fact that chronic pain can’t be seen doesn’t mean it’s all in the patient’s head. Pain is a complex experience that often involves the body and brain, and when your pain sends signals to the brain, pay attention to them.