Pain is one of the most common complaints that people go to the doctor with. In the United States alone, it is estimated that more than 100 million people live with chronic pain.
Chronic pain is very different from acute pain. Acute pain is what you experience when you are injured, for example, when you break a bone or burn your arm, or when something goes wrong in your body, such as indigestion , appendicitis, or a passing kidney stone.
Acute pain is like an alarm. It tells you that your body has been damaged or has been recently damaged so that you can do something about it. The message could be "The burner is hot, stop touching it" or "The ankle tendon is damaged, walking on it will have negative consequences". This is the information you need and can use.
Chronic pain is like an alarm that malfunctions or goes off when not needed, like a low battery smoke alarm. We all had a neighbor whose car alarm goes off every time a cat passes by or the wind blows, wakes you up in the middle of the night and keeps repeating. Everyone on the street knows that they don't need to call emergency services or fly out of bed to scare off a thief, and yet this anxiety still affects their life.
When acute pain becomes chronic
Acute pain can become chronic. Different healthcare providers have different criteria for how long it takes to become chronic. Some say three months, others say six months or a year. However, others consider it chronic if the pain persists longer than usual due to its cause.
Medical science previously did not understand why pain persists after something has been healed. They often said that the pain "is all in the head."
More recently, however, researchers have found that acute pain sometimes disrupts the way our brains work.
When you feel pain, what happens is that your nerves detect the problem and send signals to your brain. Then your brain sends signals to your body to eliminate the danger and guide the healing process.
When signals are constantly being sent back and forth, it's as if your nervous system has a habit of sending them, and sometimes it doesn't stop even when it should. The physical structures that carry these signals have changed, similar to how the pathways in your brain change when you learn a new skill.
When chronic pain develops on its own
Sometimes chronic pain occurs when nothing has caused it, such as an injury or surgery. Usually this is due to illness.
Many conditions can cause chronic pain, either in specific areas or throughout the body. Some of the most common are:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Nerve compression (eg, sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Neuropathy (pain from nerve damage)
- Joint dysfunction (eg, TMJ)
- Any autoimmune / inflammatory condition
These conditions have many causes and cannot be treated in the same way. If you develop chronic pain, it is imperative to see your doctor and get a correct diagnosis. This gives you a much better chance of finding effective treatments and management strategies.
Types of chronic pain
Not all pain feels the same. If you've had a cut, bruise, burn, or sprain, you know they're all different. Chronic pain also depends on the cause.
Chronic pain is often described as:
- Electric (sharp, prickly)
Less common descriptions may include words like "deep" or "warm."
Your healthcare professional can tell you a lot by the way they describe your pain. For example, stabbing electrical pain is likely coming from a nerve.
Unusual types of pain
Some types of pain are less common than others and can only be associated with certain conditions.
Hyperalgesia is an increase in pain, primarily an increase in the volume of pain. When they pick up pain signals, the nerves send out more signals than they should, and the brain overreacts too. As a result, you experience much more pain than usual.
Hyperalgesia is associated with :
- Nerve damage
- Long-term use of opioid pain relievers (eg, Vicodin, oxycodone )
- Diseases, especially fibromyalgia and other conditions of central sensitivity.
Another rare type of pain is allodynia , which means pain from something that does not usually cause pain. It can be a light touch, a touch of fabric to the skin, or a mild heat or cold.
Allodynia is a characteristic:
- Other states of central sensitivity
Other people often judge people with hyperalgesia and allodynia harshly, believing that they are doing too much pain, or pretending, or that for some reason they are too mentally weak to cope. Yet their pain is real and often debilitating.
Chronic pain is sometimes constant, but it doesn't have to be. Pain in a condition like irritable bowel syndrome may be present only after eating certain foods, but it can still be considered chronic. The same goes for knee pain that comes from cold or overuse, but not always.
Pain triggers can also tell your doctor a lot about what's going on in your body. In some cases, it may even indicate specific management strategies.
Symptoms associated with chronic pain.
Although pain is the main symptom, other symptoms often accompany chronic pain. These often include :
- Bad dream
- Decreased appetite
- Mental dysfunction
- Poor coordination
Not all people with chronic pain will experience all of these symptoms. Additionally, some chronic pain conditions also include many additional symptoms.
Diagnose chronic pain
As with acute pain, if you go to the doctor and say, "I have chronic pain," they will probably ask, "Where does it hurt?"
If you can pinpoint a location (or multiple locations), it is often very helpful for diagnosis. The doctor will most likely examine the area and take an X-ray or other scan to see what is happening inside.
If they ask "where" and you say "everywhere", the process will be different. Expect blood tests to look for signs of inflammation or other markers of disease. Your healthcare provider may also order a scan based on your symptoms and medical history.
The more difficult your pain, the better it will be to keep a pain diary. It can help you identify triggers, answer questions about when and for how long it hurts, and the intensity and quality (eg, burning, throbbing) of your pain. (A pain log is a tool for you to better understand your pain. Do not pass it on to your healthcare provider and expect him / her to study it for you).
Chronic pain treatment
Treatment for chronic pain can vary greatly depending on your diagnosis.
Pain relievers can include:
Depending on your symptoms and the conditions that match, your healthcare provider may recommend additional treatments, such as:
- Massage therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Nutritional supplements
Lifestyle changes can also help you feel better. They may include:
- Changes in diet
- Altered activity levels
- Special accommodations at school or work.
- Leave school or work
- Give up smoking
- Limit or avoid alcohol
- Stress management
- Means of transport
Daily life with chronic pain.
It is difficult to live with chronic pain. Sometimes you may feel desperate or desperate for help.
With proper diagnosis and treatment, some chronic pain will go away over time. Some do not. While there is no one-size-fits-all treatment, you have many pain reduction options that can improve your functionality and quality of life.
By working with your healthcare provider to find the right treatment regimen and make smart, healthy choices, you can make significant improvements.