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What is chronic pain and how to manage it?

Chronic pain is defined as discomfort that lasts longer than a typical healing time, or pain that comes in conjunction with a long-term health condition like arthritis. There are many degrees of chronic pain, from “on and off” to constant.

People suffering with chronic pain can be so physically impacted that it becomes near impossible to go to work, eat healthily, engage in physical activity, or even find pleasure in life. Negative emotions like despair, nervousness, and insomnia can exacerbate existing chronic primary pain. Because of this reaction, a vicious cycle is established.

Chronic pain is extremely prevalent and a leading reason people seek medical attention. Between one third to a half of the UK population are affected by chronic pain.

How to differentiate chronic pain from acute pain? 

Pain can be classified as either acute or chronic. When you experience chronic pain – whether it’s from a minor cut or a fractured bone – the agony you feel is considered acute. It’s temporary, and it goes away once your body recovers from whatever injured it. On the other hand, people develop chronic pain that persists even after the initial sickness or injury heals. There may be no obvious cause of chronic pain sometimes.

What are the sites for chronic pain?

The origin and location of chronic pain might vary greatly. Common types of chronic pain are these:

  • Arthritic pain
  • Back pain
  • Pain in the neck region
  • Tension headaches
  • Cancer pain
  • Pain in testes
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Muscular pain
  • Psychogenic pain
  • Chronic neuropathic pain or nerve pain.

What are the causes of chronic pain?

At times, the origin of developing chronic pain is crystal clear. Chronic pain conditions, like arthritis or cancer, can be extremely painful over the long term.

We’ve got an in depth blog about rheumatoid arthritis here

Some people experience chronic pain that cannot be attributed to a specific accident or medical condition. Mental or emotional factors can also contribute to physical discomfort; this is known as psychogenic pain. Stress, worry, and sadness are the psychological culprits behind this. Medical expertise has linked low endorphin levels in the blood also causes chronic pain. Positive emotions can be triggered by endorphins, which are produced naturally.

When an injury occurs to spinal nerves, the nervous system sends pain signals to the brain from the affected area, alerting the body’s central nervous system that something is wrong. Such messages are interpreted by the brain as neuropathic pain. Pain signals are normally sent to the brain via specific spinal nerves, but in people with chronic pain, either these nerves or the brain itself are acting in an abnormal fashion. It’s possible the nerves are more sensitive to pain signals than usual, or the brain is misinterpreting pain signals. These pain mechanisms are necessary for pain perception and pain control and the patient should seek appropriate medical treatment.

Neglected or inadequately treated acute pain might lead to a chronic pain condition. Normally, the body heals its pain, but without proper care, acute pain has a higher chance of developing into chronic pain.

What does chronic pain feel like?

There is a wide variety of terms people use to describe their chronic pain, such as:

  • Aching
  • Burning
  • Shooting
  • Squeezing
  • Stiffness
  • Stinging
  • Throbbing

What are the effects of chronic pain?

Pain and exhaustion are common side effects of chronic pain. The disease process may cause visible physical changes that alter your look. Adapting to these shifts can be challenging and may undermine an otherwise healthy sense of self. It’s common to avoid people and activities when you’re feeling down about yourself.

We’ve got an in depth blog about rheumatoid arthritis here

The capacity to work can also be impacted by a chronic illness. You may need to make adjustments to your daily routine if you experience morning stiffness, reduced range of motion, or any other physical limitations. When one’s capacity to work is diminished, one may face economic hardships. The time it takes to complete a task can vary widely. Spouse, family member, or in-home nurse assistance may be required. When major changes occur in your life, you may have a sense of helplessness and worry about the future.

People with chronic pain might have the following sign and symptoms:

  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Sleeplessness
  • Mood swings

How is chronic pain diagnosed?

If pain persists or returns often for more than than three months, a doctor will diagnose it as chronic. Pain should prompt a visit to the doctor so they can treat the underlying issue with chronic pain medicine. Since it’s only the individual experiencing the pain who can identify and describe it, clinicians often struggle to pin down the precise origin of a patient’s complaints.

You need to see the healthcare provider if the pain persists. Your doctor will want to know:

  • The location of chronic pain
  • The intensity of chronic pain
  • The effect of chronic pain on your life and work.
  • The aggravating and relieving factors
  • Your mental health condition
  • Your surgical and medical history

What tests are used to diagnose chronic pain?

The doctor will likely do a physical examination and request diagnostic tests to determine the source of the discomfort. These tests can be used to diagnose chronic pain:

  • Blood tests
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • X-ray
  • Tests to monitor nerve conduction and reflexes
  • CSF test
  • Urine tests

How is chronic pain treated?

First, doctors will try to figure out what’s triggering the patient’s chronic pain so they can manage chronic pain, but as mentioned above, it’s sometimes difficult to identify the origin. Then they will focus on alleviating the suffering they are in.

Chronic pain management involves various factors, such as;

  • The type of chronic pain you are suffering from.
  • The factor causing chronic pain.
  • Overall health condition and age

The most effective chronic pain treatment involves multiple modalities, including physical medicine, pharmaceuticals, behavioral modifications, and psychosocial interventions.

Seeking therapy for your mental health condition is essential if you suffer from both chronic pain and depression or anxiety. Chronic pain worse by stress and emotional distress. Pain management involves factors such as depression-related fatigue, disturbed sleep, and reduced activity.

What medications can treat chronic pain?

Your healthcare provider may recommend certain medications for pain management, including:

  • Anti-seizure drugs that prevent convulsions and reduce pain.
  • Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors that are involved in chronic pain relief.
  • Skeletal muscle relaxants also reduce pain.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that can relieve chronic pain.
  • Products that are applied directly to the skin and contain analgesics or substances that generate heat or cold to alleviate chronic pain.
  • Opioids analgesics. There is an increased risk of opioid addiction and tolerance development with opioids. As a result, doctors would typically try less extreme measures to treat chronic pain before prescribing opioids.
  • Drugs that produce sedation or hypnosis.
  • Marijuana is effective in reducing pain intensity.

Alternative and complementary medicine for pain treatment might include:

  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation: In this method, an electrical current is delivered to the skin via patches for pain management and relieving pain by electric currents.
  •  Nerve block: In this method, an alternative medicine, an anesthetic is injected into the skin close to the painful location to dull the patient’s sensation. There are situations when nerve blocks can help doctors diagnose your condition and pinpoint the source of your neuropathic or neurogenic pain.
  • Steroid injections: Chronic pain caused by irritation and inflammation of spinal cord nerve roots can be treated by an injection of anti-inflammatory medication (a complementary and alternative medicine) into the epidural area of the spinal cord to relieve pain.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/young-man-in-sleepwear-suffering-from-headache-in-morning-3771115/

Can lifestyle changes help with chronic pain?

Here are four ways in which a change in your daily routine might be useful in your chronic pain management. Healthcare professionals often refer to these four factors as the “pillars of chronic pain” for chronic pain treatment. They include:

  • Stress: Reducing your stress levels is highly recommended for those suffering from chronic pain. Meditation, mindfulness, and deep breathing are just a few of the methods that can be used to alleviate stress. Find what works best for you by trying various approaches.
  • Exercise: Daily 30-minute sessions of gentle exercise like walking or swimming may help alleviate your pain. Stress management is essential when living with chronic pain, and for some people, exercise can help.
  • Diet: The healthiest diets have been shown to improve physical and mental well-being. Your doctor may recommend trying an anti-inflammatory diet in which you cut back or eliminate certain inflammatory food groups like red meat and processed foods.
  • Adequate rest: The importance of getting adequate good sleep cannot be underestimated. Fat gain from lack of sleep may aggravate existing chronic discomfort. Proper rest is essential for managing stress.

Can therapy help with chronic pain?

Certain alternative treatments for managing pain are:

  • Counseling: Talk therapy can be helpful for managing chronic pain, particularly the pain caused by psychological factors.
  • Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy instructs patients in alternative methods of performing routine chores, with the goal of reducing or eliminating pain and protecting against further harm.
  • Physical therapy: Relaxation techniques such as exercises that stretch and strengthen your body are included in physical therapy, and they can be helpful in reducing your overall level of pain.

Can chronic pain be prevented?

Sadly, there are no medical treatments that have been shown to be effective in preventing chronic pain in general. It is possible for you to avoid developing some pain disorders that can result in ongoing chronic pain.

For instance, you can reduce your risk of developing lung cancer by giving up smoking to prevent cancer pain.

What are the complications of chronic pain?

Chronic pain can cause many complications such as:

  • Reduced standard of living
  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • deterioration of preexisting chronic illness
  • A higher likelihood of having suicidal thoughts or really carrying them out

Chronic pain has severe side effects. This is why it is crucial to see a doctor if you have persistent pain. The ability to treat and control chronic pain is supported by a wealth of resources.

Finding an effective complementary and integrative health treatment can take time, but the effort is well worth it.

The Bottom Line

Chronic pain can last for months or even years and can make it hard to work, do things you enjoy, or take care of yourself or others. Please talk to a doctor or pain specialist if you have long-term pain. There are ways to deal with your chronic pain that can make your life easier.


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