According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, more than 1.5 billion people suffer from chronic pain. In the US, it is one of the most common causes of long-term disability, affecting more than a 100 million people.
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is a medical condition, which means ever-lasting pain, or a pain, which has persisted for a long time. It can affect any part of your body and can be characterised by various degrees of pain. Chronic pain doesn’t have to have an apparent cause and can occur after an injury, due to the malfunctioning of the nerve signals. Although chronic pain is incurable, the painful sensations can be minimised by medications and therapies. Some common ways to minimise chronic pains is proper medications, lifestyle transformations and other medical treatments and procedures.
Almost everyone experiences pain at some point of their lives, however, after a while these pains and aches subside. This type of pain is the reaction of the nervous system to warn your body that the body has sustained an injury. When the body suffers from an injury, the brain alerts the nervous system, by sending pain signals from the injured part to the brain through the spinal cord. As the injury heals, the pain becomes less severe. On the other hand, chronic pain persists and continues to send pain signals to the brain, even after the injury has healed. This can last from months to years, can severely affect your mobility, normal functioning of a body part, and can drastically reduce your flexibility, endurance and strength, which can sometimes cause difficulty for you to attempt or complete daily tasks or activities.
How to Identify Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is characterised as a pain which can persist and lasts up to at least 12 weeks. It can be severe or a dull numbing ache or a burning sensation. It can be a steady kind of pain or intermittent pain, coming and going at different intervals for no apparent reason. Some of the most common chronic pains are given below:
- Lower back pain
- Post-trauma pain
- Cancer pain
- Post-surgical pain
- Neurogenic pain (a kind of pain caused by nerve damage)
- Psychogenic pain (pain that is not caused by any disease, injury, or nerve damage)
- Arthritis pain
Causes of chronic pain
Chronic pain is generally caused by an initial injury, such as a pulled muscle. According to medical scientists, chronic pain manifests after the nerves suffer from damage, which makes pain unbearable and long lasting. In most cases of chronic pain, treating the initial injury might not be a solution for eliminating the chronic pain. Moreover, in some cases, chronic pain might not be caused by an injury but due to a medical condition such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, inflammatory bowel diseases, vulvodynia, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) and interstitial cystitis.
Who Can Be Affected By Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain can affect people from all walks of lives, any gender or age. However, it is much more common in older people and females. Here are some factors that increase your chances of having chronic pain:
- Being overweight or obese
Treatment of Chronic Pain
It is not quite possible to completely eliminate chronic pain, yet. However, most treatments have two primary objectives: to reduce pain and to elevate strength and mobility. This can help individuals carry out their daily tasks without any discomfort or difficulty. The treatment can also differ from person to person, depending on the frequency or severity of pain. Depending on these two factors, a medical practitioner can design a customised treatment plan for a patient. This pain management plan will depend on the underlying health conditions of the person and on their symptoms. Here are some treatment strategies for chronic pain.
To treat chronic pain, doctors sometimes prescribe their patients with several types of medications such as:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and acetaminophen
- Opioid pain relievers, such as morphine, hydrocodone and codeine
- Adjuvant analgesics, like anticonvulsants and antidepressants
Here are some medical procedures that can drastically improve the condition of a patient suffering from chronic pain.
- Acupuncture: A process in which the skin is punctured lightly with thin needles to reduce pain.
- Nerve Block: An injection that stops the nerves from sending pain signals to the brain.
- Electrical Stimulation: Mild electric current is used to shock the muscles to alleviate pain.
- Surgery: Any injuries that have healed improperly or not at all can be corrected by undergoing a surgical procedure to eliminate the injury, which has been causing the chronic pain.
To ease chronic pain, patients can try:
- Physical therapy
- Tai chi
- Pet therapy
- Indulging in art or music therapy
How Do You Cope With Chronic Pain?
The first step is to accept that there is no apparent cure for eliminating chronic pain completely. However, there are several ways to reduce and manage that pain, if the patient chooses to follow the pain-management plan religiously. Physical pain can have a direct affect on your emotional health and can be a common cause for stress. To cope with a condition of chronic pain, take care of your body by indulging in a healthy lifestyle, eating balanced meals, doing exercises and getting enough sleep. Seek support from friends, family and support groups to increase your motivation. Chronic pain can force you to isolate yourself, but it is crucial to take part in your daily activities, as you would normally. Socialise with your friends and peers and carry out your daily tasks to eliminate any negative emotions and to decrease your sensitivity to pain.
You can find out more about pain management here.