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Chronic Pain: What Does It Mean? A Review on the Use of the Term Chronic Pain in Clinical Practice

Authors Raffaeli W, Tenti M, Corraro A, Malafoglia V, Ilari S, Balzani E, Bonci A

Received 21 January 2021

Accepted for publication 16 March 2021

Published 29 March 2021 Volume 2021:14 Pages 827—835

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S303186

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Dr Jonathan Greenberg


William Raffaeli,1 Michael Tenti,1 Annette Corraro,2 Valentina Malafoglia,1 Sara Ilari,3 Eleonora Balzani,4 Antonello Bonci1,5

1ISAL Foundation, Institute for Research on Pain, Rimini, Italy; 2Leiden University, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Leiden, The Netherlands; 3Institute of Research for Food Safety & Health (IRC_FSH), Department of Health Sciences, University ‘Magna Graecia’ of Catanzaro, Catanzaro, Italy; 4Department of Surgical Science, University of Turin, Torino, Italy; 5Global Institutes on Addictions, Miami, FL, USA

Correspondence: William Raffaeli
Fondazione ISAL, Via San Salvador, 204, Rimini, 47922, Italy
Tel +390541725166
Fax +390541725164
Email [email protected]

Abstract: Chronic pain is nowadays used as an umbrella term referring to a wide range of clinical conditions, such as fibromyalgia, migraine, or long-standing pain states without actual known causes. However, labeling a patient’s clinical condition with the term “chronic pain”, when dealing with pain lasting longer than 3 months, might be misleading. This paper aims at analyzing the possible pitfalls related to the use of the term “chronic pain” in the clinical field. It appears, indeed, that the term “chronic pain” shows a semantic inaccuracy on the basis of emerging scientific evidences on the pathogenesis of different long-standing pain states. The major pitfalls in using this label emerge in clinical settings, especially with patients having a biomedical perspective on pain or from different cultures, or with healthcare providers of other medical specialties or different disciplines. A label solely emphasizing temporal features does not help to discern the multifaceted complexity of long-standing pain states, whose onset, maintenance and exacerbation are influenced by a complex and interdependent set of bio-psycho-social factors. Thus, finding a more meaningful name might be important. We call upon the necessity of bringing awareness and implementing educational activities for healthcare providers, as well as for the public, on the biopsychosocial approach to assess, prevent and care of chronic pain. Further research on the etiopathogenetic processes of chronic pain states is also required, together with examinative diagnostic methods, to individuate the most appropriate label(s) representing the complex long-standing pain states and to avoid adopting the term “chronic pain” inappropriately.

Keywords: chronic pain, disease, diagnosis, label, meaning, biopsychosocial

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