Understanding Chronic Pain and How to Treat It
Chronic pain is one of the most common health issues in the United States and around the world. In recent years the CDC has reported an estimated 50 million Americans suffer from long lasting pain. When you figure that is over 20 percent of the population, it’s very likely you or someone you love is dealing with constant or frequent pain.
When Is Pain Chronic?
Lots of things can be painful for a few days or weeks. A sudden stop in the car can leave your back and neck aching for a time. A vaccination shot can make your arm sore and hard to raise for a few days. But these probably won’t be considered chronic.
In general, doctors call pain chronic when it lasts longer than 4 to 6 months. Your pain continues even though you may be receiving medication and treatment. That’s a pretty serious pain that just won’t go away.
Chronic pain signals can travel through the brain and nervous system for weeks, months, and even years.
Most Common Examples of Chronic Pain
Men and women most often suffer from frequent headaches that pop up every day, sometimes or all the time. They also suffer from nerve damage and lower back pain. This is most often due to injuries sustained, sometimes years in the past.
Lower back pain is extremely common. It often limits activity in adults while making it harder to work and enjoy private life. People with advanced cancer often deal with chronic pain that even medications can’t seem to soothe. Migraines, cluster headaches, and tension headaches are common and frequent for millions of people everywhere.
Because pain is perceived, the relationship between the brain and nervous system can be complex. Pain can be caused by damage to the brain and spinal cord. It can also be felt when there is no physical cause present. This is called psychogenic pain that is clearly felt, but no physical cause can be found. This type of pain is becoming increasingly common with more reported cases.
Types of Pain
There are 4 basic types of pain. Your chronic pain most often falls into one of these camps. Knowing the type of pain you have helps you communicate with your doctor, the pharmacist, family, and friends. There is also some peace of mind that comes with a better understanding of causes.
Nociceptive Pain – In most cases, this is caused by an injury to tissues. Pain from arthritis, lots of back pain, and pain after surgery can all be classified as Nociceptive.
Inflammatory Pain – Your body’s immune system is on alert and creates inflammation as a defense. Conditions like gout and rheumatoid arthritis can cause chronic pain from inflammation. No wonder anti-inflammatory supplements frequently talk about soothing aches and pains.
Neuropathic Pain – This is the nerve pain we talked about early. It comes with the irritation of nerves in conditions like trigeminal neuralgia, neuropathy, and radicular pain.
Functional Pain – It hurts but doesn’t seem to come from a physical cause. There may be a physical cause, but doctors can’t find it. Nonetheless, it’s still painful and often chronically so. Conditions like fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome often cause chronic pain with no obvious origin.
Ways to Treat Chronic Pain
Treating chronic pain involves a wide variety of therapies and possible medications. Having pain that rarely goes away often leads to anxiety and depression. So pain relievers are often combined with antidepressants and/or anticonvulsants.
Our team frequently helps people who are suffering from anxiety, depression, or substance use triggered by chronic pain. We can help people deal with the psychological aspects of pain to live a happier, healthier life free of mental illness and substance abuse.
Doctors generally combine medicines with therapy to battle chronic pain. They usually prescribe long acting medications. This can include the careful use of opioids. It’s important such medications be closely monitored by a physician. Addiction can be a problem with serious consequences. Physicians will often combine Acetaminophen to help reduce the amount of opioids needed.
Ultimately every patient is different. While your chronic pain may be similar to the types discussed in this article, only your doctor or other professional can accurately understand the causes and solutions.
Please contact us to discuss your chronic pain or that of a family member. We offer a variety of therapies that can help people live a more rewarding pain-free life. If you or someone you love is suffering from depression, anxiety, or substance abuse as a result of pain, we can help develop healthier, more effective ways to deal with the psychological aspects.