While most of us have experienced pain of one kind or another, only about 25% of us have pain that persists long after an injury, infection, or other problem. Persistence is what distinguishes chronic pain from normal pain.
Chronic pain syndrome impacts at least 70 million Americans and is considered “chronic” when pain lasts longer than the expected time of healing - generally when the pain lasts longer than three to six months. Women are slightly more likely to experience chronic pain than men.
This type of pain often leads to other problems such as emotional and psychological issues, weight gain from lack of activity due to pain, and exhaustion from lack of sleep. Relationships can also suffer because people may not believe that the pain is really lasting that long and it is even sometimes pain that has no original source or event or cause. So, sometimes people with chronic pain are suspected of faking their ailment. In addition, the ongoing pain can lead to irritability and a real change in personality which can damage close relationships.
The pain often limits physical activity and keeps someone from work. It can also create a lack of appetite causing nutritional deficiencies as well. In some cases, the person is so desperate to end the pain, they go through several doctors to get addictive but powerful pain medications. This can quickly lead to an addiction and a downward spiral that becomes difficult to escape.
Common Types of Chronic Pain - Back Pain, Headache, and Joint Pain
The number one type of chronic pain is back pain. While 80 percent of adults will experience back pain at some point in their lives, for some it never really goes away. Headaches, in particular migraine type headaches, are next in line as the most common type of chronic pain experienced. And the next most common type is joint pain. After that, there are a wide variety of pains that can be experienced as chronic pain:
- Amputee Pain at the site of the amputation
- Burn Pain
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Pelvic pain
- Spinal Cord Injury Pain
- Stroke and Paralysis Pain
Some chronic pain has no known origin. Unfortunately, some pain simply does not have a clear cause which can be frustrating for the doctor and patient.
The Vicious Cycle of Chronic Pain
The biggest problem with chronic pain is the vicious cycle. The pain can lead to less activity and inability to sleep. This leads to weight gain and exhaustion – which can actually lead to more pain. Our pain tolerance is lower when we are tired and generally inactive. Then, because things seem to get worse for the person, depression can set in, which has its own series of new complications - like more sleep disturbances and appetite problems and more pain!
Diagnosis and Treatment
The doctor will generally ask a series of questions about the pain and determine the length of time the pain has been occurring in making a diagnosis. The treatment depends to some extent on the cause. Migraines may have treatments to limit the frequency of these headaches in addition to comforting the pain for example.
The trick of the treatment is to start improving wherever you can in the vicious cycle. If the doctor approves, exercise can keep a person from slipping too far into this bad circle. Most people in pain do not want to exercise, but it can help.
The other thing to be cautious of is too many pain medications – especially those that are addictive. Alternatives to pain management can help tremendously and do not have the dangers of certain types of medication.
And last, it is important for a person to get emotional support. If family cannot be supportive, maybe a counselor or home care nurse can help a person work through the frustrations of living with chronic pain.
Pain management clinics offer multi-disciplinary approaches to treating chronic pain. These clinics often have medical and psychological assistance for a person suffering with this disorder.