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

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          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.

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          Most cited references 62

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          Pathological pain and the neuroimmune interface.

          Reciprocal signalling between immunocompetent cells in the central nervous system (CNS) has emerged as a key phenomenon underpinning pathological and chronic pain mechanisms. Neuronal excitability can be powerfully enhanced both by classical neurotransmitters derived from neurons, and by immune mediators released from CNS-resident microglia and astrocytes, and from infiltrating cells such as T cells. In this Review, we discuss the current understanding of the contribution of central immune mechanisms to pathological pain, and how the heterogeneous immune functions of different cells in the CNS could be harnessed to develop new therapeutics for pain control. Given the prevalence of chronic pain and the incomplete efficacy of current drugs--which focus on suppressing aberrant neuronal activity--new strategies to manipulate neuroimmune pain transmission hold considerable promise.
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            Chronic pain is a major challenge to clinical practice and basic science. The peripheral and central neural networks that mediate nociception show extensive plasticity in pathological disease states. Disease-induced plasticity can occur at both structural and functional levels and is manifest as changes in individual molecules, synapses, cellular function and network activity. Recent work has yielded a better understanding of communication within the neural matrix of physiological pain and has also brought important advances in concepts of injury-induced hyperalgesia and tactile allodynia and how these might contribute to the complex, multidimensional state of chronic pain. This review focuses on the molecular determinants of network plasticity in the central nervous system (CNS) and discusses their relevance to the development of new therapeutic approaches.
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              Glial activation: a driving force for pathological pain.

              Pain is classically viewed as being mediated solely by neurons, as are other sensory phenomena. The discovery that spinal cord glia (microglia and astrocytes) amplify pain requires a change in this view. These glia express characteristics in common with immune cells in that they respond to viruses and bacteria, releasing proinflammatory cytokines, which create pathological pain. These spinal cord glia also become activated by certain sensory signals arriving from the periphery. Similar to spinal infection, these signals cause release of proinflammatory cytokines, thus creating pathological pain. Taken together, these findings suggest a new, dramatically different approach to pain control, as all clinical therapies are focused exclusively on altering neuronal, rather than glial, function.

                Author and article information

                J Pain Res
                J Pain Res
                Journal of Pain Research
                29 March 2021
                : 14
                : 827-835
                [1 ]ISAL Foundation, Institute for Research on Pain , Rimini, Italy
                [2 ]Leiden University, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences , Leiden, The Netherlands
                [3 ]Institute of Research for Food Safety & Health (IRC_FSH), Department of Health Sciences, University ‘Magna Graecia’ of Catanzaro , Catanzaro, Italy
                [4 ]Department of Surgical Science, University of Turin , Torino, Italy
                [5 ]Global Institutes on Addictions , Miami, FL, USA
                Author notes
                Correspondence: William Raffaeli Fondazione ISAL , Via San Salvador, 204, Rimini, 47922, ItalyTel +390541725166Fax +390541725164 Email isal@fondazioneisal.it
                © 2021 Raffaeli et al.

                This work is published and licensed by Dove Medical Press Limited. The full terms of this license are available at https://www.dovepress.com/terms.php and incorporate the Creative Commons Attribution – Non Commercial (unported, v3.0) License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/). By accessing the work you hereby accept the Terms. Non-commercial uses of the work are permitted without any further permission from Dove Medical Press Limited, provided the work is properly attributed. For permission for commercial use of this work, please see paragraphs 4.2 and 5 of our Terms ( https://www.dovepress.com/terms.php).

                Page count
                Figures: 0, References: 62, Pages: 9

                Anesthesiology & Pain management

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


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