Understanding Chronic Pain

Pain. A sensation or feeling from an injury, or physical problem, such as disease or joint dysfunction. Pain is a complex subjective phenomenon – key word being subjective. Most people can understand the concept of pain, after all, we’ve all experienced some type of pain some time in our lives, whether its headaches, injury pain or the pain you experience just from whacking your shin against the coffee table or slicing your finger on a steak knife. But, pain is different for everyone.

Acute pain is a sign of a problem or injury. It is usually short-lived and treatment involves the removal of the underlying causes and the use of analgesics. People who suffer from acute pain should seek advise from a qualified medical professional.

Chronic pain, on the other hand, is much more complicated. It is defined as pain persisting more than 6 months. It is usually accompanied by sleep disturbances, decreased appetite or loss of taste for food, weight fluctuations, diminished libido and depression, just to name a few of the side effects.

Over 50 million Americans, including men women and children, suffer from chronic pain, which interferes with their daily lives. 51% report pain adversely affects their employment, through decreased productivity and their ability to put in a full day’s work – even their opportunity for advancement. Over half report pain adversely affects their personal lives or activities of daily living, while Ã?¾ report pain affects their ability to exercise as well as quality of sleep. And lastly, over 2/3 say pain causes irritable behavior, stress and a decrease in desires and motivation.
92% of people experiencing pain seek medical advice, though 44% delay secondary to the healthcare professional’s casual attitude towards pain.

Until recently, pain was considered a symptom of disease or condition – even a natural part of aging, therefore, most pain goes under-treated, improperly treated or possibly untreated. That’s because most healthcare professionals have been trained in the treatment of a disease or condition, not in its management.

Even so, people are constantly seeking methods to reduce pain. 53% take prescription medications, while 55% try an over-the-counter solution. However, 86% of these people experience some type of side effect from medication – drowsiness and upset stomach being the greatest complaints. Therefore, 61%, predominately prescription-medication users, do not take the medicine as directed.

Pain is subjective in nature and highly individual from person to person. There are no absolute ways to quantify pain. Diagnostic testing, x-rays, MRI’s, range of motion testing, etc., are usually able to produces the likely culprits of the pain, but they cannot distinguish the amount of pain you may experience.

Pain scales, rating your pain levels from “0”, being no pain to “10” being the most excruciating pain you’ve ever experienced, are also very helpful in quantifying and treating pain, but the fact remains: a rating of a “5” on a pain scale does not mean the same thing for each person, even though they may suffer from the same ailment. Therefore, pain scales are helpful to assess an individual’s pain and cannot be compared with others.

So, what can you do?

Get educated. Learn all you can about the type of pain you suffer from and what treatment options are available. One of the major difficulties with chronic pain sufferers is the long list of “complications” that can arise. Take stress, for example. Stress impedes on the body’s ability to heal. Living with pain on a daily basis can cause increased stress levels. Thus, a difficult problem arises – the more you live with pain, the more stress you may experience, which decreases your tolerance to pain as well as other daily stressors. This may be the reason we see so many chronic pain sufferers not responding to traditional treatments. And, only 15% of people in pain seek alternative methods for pain management.

Seek alternative treatment methods. There are a slew of options out there that stray from the norm. Perhaps a massage will help, or acupuncture, or a chiropractor evaluation. Do not discount options just because they sound different.

Join chronic pain groups, specific for your complaints. You’ll be surprised at the number of people out there who suffer from the same thing. People who’ve “been there, done that”, may offer some advise that may be helpful for you.

Stay active. Regular exercise combats stress and decreases perception of pain. Can’t do your normal workout? Modify it within your pain tolerance or try something different, like Tai Chi – a gentler workout regiment. Don’t let pain sideline you – you will only feel worse, physically as well as mentally.

Document it. Keep a record of your pain and things that exacerbate symptoms. What types of things help you reduce or manage pain -maybe it’s a particular activity or food – maybe it’s an increase in your stress level. Writing it down can prevent you from making the same mistakes that bring on pain.

Be honest with yourself. Pain is not a weakness. It can range from annoying to debilitating. You must acknowledge and accept your limitations. You must learn to perhaps, live with the pain and carry on.

Pain is more than a passing nuisance – it is a real problem that plagues many of us. It can be physical or psychological in nature, chronic or occasional. But, one thing remains clear – pain is an indicator of some sort of problem.
Though we will never rid the world of pain we can be assured, we are not alone!

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