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  • Writer's pictureRiley Stephens

Chronic Pain: Is my pain real?

In Australia 1 in 5 Australians over the age 45 and over are living with persistent, ongoing pain 1 . This persistent pain, often referred to as chronic pain, is defined as pain that persists for 3 months or longer and can often be disabling and cause great stress to those that experience it. This has led to more and more people going to their doctors with chronic pain. However, sadly more often than not an individual’s chronic pain will be

disregarded due to there being no “physical injury” 2 .

This lack of recognition and belief in the pain a person is currently experiencing from not only those in the health sector but even by those in the person’s own family leads to individuals with chronic pain feeling ostracised and isolated 2 . This leads to many questioning whether their pain is real or if it is all in their head? However, it should be known that no matter how severe one’s chronic pain is, or how long they have had it,


Pain is complicated. Previously it was believed that pain equals damage, that pain must come from a physical injury. However, it is common to hear stories about how people only start to feel pain after they have escaped a dangerous situation or have consciously observed that they are injured:

  • Like only feeling the pain of a broken arm until after we see it.

  • or not remembering when we got that bruise due to not feeling pain at the time

And funnily enough the opposite can also occur. We can feel increased pain when we should not. In fact, 70% of those who lose a limb (amputees) still feel like the limb is attached to their body; with some even feeling severe pain from removed limb.

So Here is What We Know About Pain 3,4 :

  • Pain is always real!!! - the only way to know if someone is in pain is if they tell you!

  • Pain is a protective response; an alarm system designed to get our attention and make us do (or not do) something to protect the painful body part.

  • Pain may start out as a physical injury, but social and psychological factors also influence it and prolonging our pain and even increase our pain long after the injury is healed.

  • The longer pain goes on the more sensitive our nerves become - meaning our whole system is better at producing pain

Pain is more than just a physical injury:

Things that threaten us can cause the pain to continue or get worse:

  • Threats can come from feelings like anxiety, stress or even unhappiness

  • Threats can come from places that feel unsafe – Threats can come from foods that increase gut inflammation

  • Threats can come from people who make us feel bad or cut us down.

Health professionals, who understand pain will never say your pain is not real and will help you understand and make informed decisions regarding your pain and will work with you to develop a recovery plan for your pain. Exercise Physiologist can aid in the management or your chronic pain through exercise, they are experts in exercise prescription and can help you understand and guide you along the right path for the management of your chronic pain.

For more information about Chronic pain and advances in chronic pain management see the following links:

Written by Riley Stephens (Accredited Exercise Physiologist)


1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Chronic pain in Australia. Canberra: AIHW.

2. Koesling, D., & Bozzaro, C.. (2021). Chronic pain patients’ need for recognition and their current

struggle. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, 24(4), 563–572.



4. Miaskowski, C., Blyth, F., Nicosia, F., Haan, M., Keefe, F., Smith, A., & Ritchie, C. (2020). A

biopsychosocial model of chronic pain for older adults. Pain Medicine, 21(9), 1793-1805.

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