University at Buffalo

Behavioral Medicine Clinic


About Chronic Pain


Pain is the body’s warning system, alerting you that something is wrong. The International Association for the Study of Pain defines it as “an unpleasant experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage to a person’s body.” Specialized nervous system cells called neurons that transmit pain signals are found throughout the skin and other body tissues. These neurons respond to things such as injury or tissue damage. For example, when a harmful agent such as a sharp knife comes in contact with your skin, chemical signals travel from neurons in the skin through nerves in the spinal cord to your brain, where they are interpreted as pain.

Acute vs. Chronic Pain

Most medical conditions involve pain that can be divided into two general categories: acute and chronic. These categories reflect the duration of pain.

Acute Pain

Acute pain is short lived. It can last for a few seconds or longer but wanes as healing occurs. Some examples of things that cause acute pain include burns, cuts, and fractures. Acute pain is triggered in the nervous systems to alert you to possible injury and the need to take care of yourself.

Acute pain is considered “good” pain because it serves a useful purpose after an accident or surgery. An ankle that hurts suggests to a jogger the possibility of a sprain and the need for medical attention. A patient complaining of an ache in the lower right abdomen can lead a doctor to make a life–saving diagnosis of appendicitis. In these cases, the pain comes and goes with proper medical care that gets at the root cause of the problem.

Chronic Pain

For an estimated 50 million Americans, pain is a constant part of their lives. This type of pain is called chronic pain because it can last weeks, months, and years. With chronic pain, pain signals keep firing in the nervous system long after the body has had a chance to heal. There may have been an initial mishap – sprained back, serious infection – or there may be an ongoing cause of pain – arthritis, cancer, ear infection – but for some people pain does not go away. What’s more, chronic pain defies a simple medical explanation. This does not mean than chronic pain is not real. It simply means that medical specialists are unable to pinpoint an exact cause.

Pain is often treated quite effectively with medications. However, the effectiveness of medications can diminish when pain persists over longer periods. When medications fall short, doctors count on the Behavioral Medicine Clinic (BMC) to provide relief.

The BMC provides both research and non–research treatment programs for many of the most common pain disorders. When research programs are available, eligible patients may enroll and receive treatments free of charge.

If you or someone you know is suffering from pain that medications or other therapies are not effectively controlling, the Behavioral Medicine Clinic may be able to help. Contact us online or call us at 716-898-5671 to get the help you need.