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Is chronic pain a lifestyle problem?

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

A reader asked for my take on a presentation slide asserting that “chronic pain is a lifestyle problem.” I’ve written tons about this topic from many angles, but I thought it might be helpful to zoom in and answer this specific question concisely.

Pain is never one kind of problem, any more than cancer is one disease.

And we need to be careful not to come within a mile of even hinting that anyone is to blame for their pain.

Many kinds of pain are caused by pathologies and injuries, often quite hard-to-diagnose (even for years at a time). And many of those have little or nothing to do with anxiety, posture, laziness, weakness, diet or the many other traditional and rather simplistic scapegoats for pain.

That all said… unhealthy people are likelier to do poorly with any kind of pain. Pain severity/chronicity is partly a function of overall health and fitness, which is in turn, of course, affected by all kinds of “lifestyle” factors. Smoking, alcohol abuse, insomnia, and sedentariness are all well-known risk factors for pain, for example. Even just eating junk food probably is too (see Elma), and it doesn’t get much more “lifestyle” than potato chip binging.

I would never want to just say that “chronic pain is a lifestyle problem” without putting it in context, but I do think lifestyle is strongly relevant to chronic pain. It matters.

For more context and details, see the main PainSci library article about non-specific vulnerabilities to pain.

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