Ask a Doctor: Why do some people have chronic pain and others do not?

Medical doctor with a stethoscope around his neck holding
photo Matt McClanahan, D.O.

Q: Chronic pain seems like an unfortunately common and pretty complicated condition. Some doctors even say it is a "disease" and inevitable with aging. But if that's the case, everyone should develop it! Can you help me understand why some people get chronic pain and some don't?

A: Despite pain being a universal human experience, as both a medical community and society at large, we have a poor understanding of what it is and how it works. Put simply, pain is a danger signal, produced in the brain (not by the body) when our nervous and psychological systems have determined that potential threat outweighs potential safety of the body. It has strong sensory components (information coming from the body), but it importantly has cognitive (thoughts, attention) and emotional (feelings, beliefs) aspects as well.