It seems that “chronic pain” is now “persistent pain”. Certainly, the phrase is being embraced increasingly by health professionals, with a number of pain management departments renaming themselves “Persistent Pain Services”.
“Chronic” and “persistent” are now regularly used interchangeably to describe pain lasting longer than 3 months.
So why the change?
It’s simply to do with the psychology of expectation management.
It seems that in recent years the medical profession has reported that patients suffering conditions labelled as “chronic” often perceive them as conditions that need to be cured rather than managed. Accordingly, patients told that their pain is chronic are reluctant to embrace treatment not seen as curative.
Persistent pain on the other hand is said to simply imply pain that is lasting longer than one might expect. In that way, describing pain as “persistent” is said to help pain sufferers to be more accepting of their pain as a longer term aspect of their life and therefore more readily able to embrace pain management techniques.
Does it really matter?
A very non-scientific straw poll of five of our clients suffering intractable, long term pain was conclusive to the extent that all five were of the opinion that it made not a jot of difference whether their pain was described as “chronic” or “persistent”; they are still in pain and see little prospect of this changing.
From an objective standpoint, these are pain sufferers whose pain state is well established and already labelled as “chronic”. Whether it would make a difference to somebody whose pain has always been labelled as “persistent” rather than “chronic” is a question I cannot answer.
However, even if there would be a benefit to some pain sufferers in avoiding the “chronic” label, the problem they face is that the term “chronic pain” is a universally established and accepted term. It is therefore highly unlikely that they are going to be able to avoid their own perception being ‘tainted’ by that “chronic” label at some (probably early) stage.