Chronic pain plagues people throughout the entire world, and it’s more common than you may think. Believe it or not, at least 80% of adults will experience lower back pain in their lives. Chronic pain can occur anywhere in the body and from a variety of injuries, acute illnesses or medical conditions, making it even more likely for any individual to experience it at some point.

Fortunately, there are treatments available for chronic pain – but not everybody is aware that genuine relief can be possible. Here’s some helpful information about the effects of chronic pain left untreated and what you can do about it.

What Causes Chronic Pain?

Before considering the effects of untreated chronic pain, it’s helpful to understand exactly what it is. While there isn’t a universal cause for chronic pain, there are some commonalities among its many causes.

Chronic pain is typically a response to an injury, acquired or acute medical condition, or illness. A few examples of health conditions that can cause chronic pain include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Bone disease
  • Stress-related illnesses
  • Diabetes
  • Infections
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Injury

Neuropathic pain after a stroke can be caused by the brain misinterpreting signals as pain. This post-stroke chronic pain might be debilitating and can be treated.

The list goes on. A recent example is COVID-19, which has resulted in chronic pain for many patients.

The causes and levels? Intensity? of chronic pain are as diverse as the people they affect. However, when left untreated, chronic pain can lead to potentially serious complications.

What Happens When Chronic Pain is Left Untreated?

Now that we understand some common causes of chronic pain, we can see why chronic pain is a recognized diagnosis. Treatment is especially important in the early stages. Here’s why:

Worsening Pain or Condition

Whatever is causing your chronic pain may not go away on its own. While it’s easy to wait out a common cold or minor injury, long-term or more severe conditions can be much more challenging.

Some conditions worsen over time when left untreated. If unaddressed for too long, these conditions can even become incredibly difficult to treat.

Reduced Quality of Life

In the event your pain worsens or becomes more difficult to manage, it is logical to expect your quality of life to be affected. Chronic pain can be a major hindrance in your ability to carry out everyday activities and frequently affects relationships.

Think about how you move throughout the day. Pain affecting your neck, back, hips, legs or feet will affect the way you walk, exercise, or perform standing or sitting tasks. As pain worsens, so will your degree of impairment.

We recommend looking into chronic pain rehabilitation options as early as possible. If conditions are left to persist, they will only get worse.


A serious side effect of untreated chronic pain is physical deconditioning. When you don’t manage pain at the onset, the affected areas will cease normal, coordinated, symmetrical movements.

When this happens, it has a ripple effect, as every movement in your body affects other parts of the body. A knee problem could lead to hip problems, which could lead to spinal problems, and so on. Your body works most effectively when it’s in proper balance.

Deconditioning complications include muscle atrophy, immobility and weight gain. Sometimes, deconditioning results in the need for mobility support, loss of independence or other significant lifestyle change.

Damage to the Nervous System

The excess electrical output in nerves due to chronic pain can deteriorate nerve tissue. Patients experiencing this effect are at a higher risk for developing degenerative diseases like dementia.

Not only that, but conditions like depression, insomnia, anxiety, memory loss, and certain cognitive deficiencies are also common in patients with untreated chronic pain. Substance use disorder (SUD) is particularly common, with the desire for pain relief leading to self-medication.

The emotional toll an injury or chronic condition can take on a person can also be a risk factor for certain neurological disorders.

Chronic Pain Management

If you have persistent pain, finding help early on can prevent negative side effects from taking hold.

First, a physical therapist (PT), physician, occupational therapist (OT), or another specialist will help you identify the cause of your pain, a necessary step in determining an appropriate treatment plan.

Next, your medical team will work with you to define your treatment goals, such as:

  • Managing symptoms
  • Developing a pain management routine
  • Restoring functional mobility and independence to the affected area
  • Help you learn relaxation and other alternative coping mechanisms
  • Improving the quality of sleep

The list can include whatever is best suited to help your individual condition as everyone’s needs and experience are different.

Chronic pain can be debilitating, severely hinder your quality of life, your ability to work, and affect your relationships, so the sooner you seek treatment, the better. The longer you leave the condition untreated, the greater the possibility of developing negative side effects.

Getting Back to Life

Now that you know what may happen when chronic pain is left untreated, you should have a good understanding of why appropriate treatment for your chronic pain is better the sooner you seek it. You deserve to experience improvement in your quality of life, and we’re here to help. Call us at 402-573-3748 to request more information, or to ask your questions!

Categories: Chronic Pain