Chronic pain can last for several months or even years, plus it can happen in just about every part of the body. The pain can interfere with your daily life and is often the root cause of depression and anxiety lasting a long time. Obviously, the first step is to seek treatment, and it may include finding as well as treating its root cause once found. However, treatment is often approached by combining lifestyle, medications, and therapies.
As a professional who has been working with pain for several years, I’ve seen an increasing number of patients suffering from chronic pain. However, I’ve noticed a couple of commonalities amongst their stories. Many of these people had visited multiple conventional doctors, who would prescribe various medications, usually a combination of narcotics, steroids, and anti-inflammatories, or they may be asked to undergo invasive surgery. Since the pain was so bad, many people who came to me were also considering using a walker or a wheelchair to reduce some of their pain.
Chronic pain is defined as pain that will last for over three months. The pain can either be there all the time, or it may be intermittent. Also, it can be in any part of the body. Many people complain that pain interferes with their daily activities like social life, working, taking care of others and themselves.Having chronic pain for a long time often means that people will start suffering from depression, insomnia, anxiety, and the pain becoming worse because of all the factors cited. If anything, this creates a vicious cycle that’s hard to break through.
Chronic pain tends to differ from the regular type of pain, also referred to as acute pain. Usually, acute pain will happen when you get hurt or if there is a cut to your skin or a fractured bone. The pain will not last long and will start to subside as soon as the body has protected itself from the offending source and the body starts healing. It should disappear completely when the body has healed itself.
On the other hand, chronic pain will continue even after you might have recovered from the illness or injury. The pain sensation is no longer reacting to the offending source but is sending signals to your brain that your body is in danger when that is no longer true. In these cases, there is a deep connection between the pain sensations and all lifestyle aspects of one’s environment including nutrition, stress management, sleep hygiene, and physical movement.
Chronic pain may take a multitude of forms across the body. Some of the most common types include but aren’t limited to:
- Back pain
- Joint pain or arthritis pain
- Neck pain
- Pain in the scar tissue
- Neurogenic pain, usually brought on by nerve damage or damage to any other part of the nervous system
- Muscle pain like caused by myofascial pain or fibromyalgia
- Headaches, including migraines
Is Chronic Pain Common
Unfortunately, chronic pain has become a very common condition, and it is one of the most common reasons people seek professional medical care. It is estimated that around 25% of adults in the US experience chronic pain.
For anyone who is suffering from chronic pain, the worst part has to be uncertainty. As professionals, we understand how pain works better than most people suffering from it. Our advice is to never ignore chronic pain and wait for months or years to see a doctor. Some people wait until the pain starts to affect their health before they see a doctor.
When you see a doctor, sometimes what’s causing the pain may be apparent. For instance, you might have a long-lasting illness like arthritis, which is causing the pain.
Diseases and injuries can cause the body to change, which leaves it more sensitive to various types of pain that may develop over time. The changes will be in place even if the body has healed from the injury or removed the diseases. Something like a broken bone, sprain, or infection can leave people with chronic pain.
Sometimes the chronic pain may not necessarily be tied with a physical illness or injury. According to healthcare providers, the response is psychogenic pain, also referred to as psychosomatic pain. It is generally caused by factors like depression, stress, and anxiety. Scientists believe that the connection mainly comes from having low levels of endorphins flowing through the blood. Endorphins are important because they are natural chemicals that help trigger what many refer to as feeling positive.
It is also possible that several causes of pain will overlap. For instance, you can have two different diseases. You can also have psychogenic and migraines together.
Many people will describe their chronic pain in various ways. Some of the most common are:
- Shooting pain
- Stinging pain
Many times having chronic pain will lead to and/or exacerbate other diseases like:
- Insomnia or the feeling of being tired
- Mood swings
- Fatigue or what’s referred to as chronic tiredness
Often, the pain is considered chronic if it comes and goes, which means it will recur for more than three months. Usually, pain is just the symptom; that’s why it is up to the doctor to determine what may be the underlying cause. You also need to consider that pain can be subjective, which means only the person experiencing it can describe and identify it, which makes the job of doctors to determine the cause more challenging.
It is imperative that anyone suffering from long-lasting pain should see a doctor. However, when you see a doctor, they will want to know the following:
- The area of the pain
- The intensity of the pain is usually described on a scale from 0-10
- How the pain is affecting your work and life
- What makes the pain worse or what can make it better
- How often the pain resurfaces
- Whether you’ve previously had surgeries and illnesses
- Whether you suffer from anxiety and stress
Usually, the health care provider will start with a physical exam of the body and then order tests that are meant to look for the cause of your chronic pain. You might have to undergo the following tests:
- Imaging tests like MRI, Ultrasound and X-rays
- Blood tests
- A test of muscle activity referred to as electromyography
- Reflex and balance-related tests
- Urine tests
- Spinal fluid tests
- Nerve conduction studies to ensure your nerves aren’t the case
The first step for healthcare providers is to identify and then treat the root cause of the pain. However, at times the root cause can’t be found. If that’s the case, they may turn to manage the pain.
Professionals manage chronic pain in three different ways, and the approach depends on multiple factors such as:
- Your age and condition of your health
- The nature of your pain
- The root cause of your pain
The best approach is often a combination of strategies like lifestyle changes, medications, and various therapies.
You must seek treatment for something like chronic pain, which may also be causing anxiety. The same goes for treating mental health conditions. Depression and anxiety can often lead to making the pain worse. If you have depression, sleep changes, and fatigue with decreased activity, it may make the pain worse.
Generally, four major lifestyle factors have a direct effect on minimizing chronic pain. They are sometimes referred to as the pillars of chronic pain and include:
Exercise – Some low-intensity exercises like light swimming and walking for 30 minutes daily can help to reduce pain. Exercise is also beneficial for reducing stress which helps make managing pain easier.
Sleep – The quality and quantity of the sleep you get is an essential factor for your overall health. A lack of sleep can make chronic pain worse and difficulty handling the pain. That’s why getting quality sleep matters so much.
Stress – Stress plays a major role in many people’s chronic pain; that’s why reducing stress is so important. People may use different techniques for managing stress. Some may turn to mind/body techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness. Our advice is to try different options to see what works for you and customize your treatment plan to you as an individual.
Nutrition – Healthy nutritional intake helps to boost your overall health. A professional may suggest that you try eating more anti-inflammatory foods, which helps to lower chronic inflammation in your body which can help with pain. A reduction in foods like refined carbohydrates and red meat can be effective.
Chronic pain can make leading a normal life challenging for many people. It can lead to a loss of health, social activity, and even livelihood. That’s why it is so important to start treating chronic pain early on and not wait until it starts leading to other health issues. The sooner you receive treatment, the higher your chances of healing sooner instead of later.