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Chronic pain is not only a physical disorder, but also a complex combination of biopsychosocial symptoms affecting each other. When in chronic pain, the patient's entire body becomes a source of pain, and eventually the pain occupies the patient's mind and entire life. The aim of the present study was to examine the life experience and management of chronic pain from the patient's perspective.Thirty-four participants with chronic pain were interviewed. For 21 of the participants, the duration of pain was more than five years. Most of the participants had degenerative spinal pain. The transcribed interviews were analysed using Giorgi's four-phase phenomenological method.The results indicated that chronic pain impaired the participant's psychosocial well-being by controlling thoughts and making life itself painful. When life is filled with pain, the entire life is seen through pain. Continuity, unpredictability and the fear of the pain decreased quality of life. As a result of the interviews, the following subthemes were identified, based on the essential theme of ‘the dominance of chronic pain’: namely: ‘pain is the master’, ‘life is not worth living’, ‘contextual pain’ and ‘waiting and hoping’.Chronic pain may decrease the quality of the patient's life to such an extent that it may be regarded as not worth living. Multidisciplinary management of chronic pain may lead to a better health status and diminish the adverse consequences of chronic pain. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.