What is Chronic Pain?

Posted on September 11, 2017 by kerri

September is Chronic Pain Awareness Month. Chronic pain can arise from a variety of different medical conditions—arthritis, migraines, nerve damage, fibromyalgia, cancer, multiple sclerosis, ulcers, gallbladder disease, and lupus [1], to name just a few—as well as injuries that have not healed properly, poor posture, obesity, sleeping on an unsupportive mattress, trauma, and other acute or chronic injuries. [1] Sometimes, the cause of pain even is difficult or impossible to identify [1]—even if all of the causes above sound like they should be relatively easy to diagnose.

Defining Chronic Pain

The National Institutes of Health defines “chronic pain” as pain that lasts more than 12 weeks. [2] Chronic pain can be caused by a variety of injuries or disease/illness processes, and can limit a person’s ability to move, do everyday activities, and even sleep. [2]

Treating Chronic Pain

Since chronic pain stems from a variety of causes, treating it will depend on the cause of the pain. Medications is often a first line treatment to manage pain while a source is being determined. Goals of treatment will be different for each person, but most will have the goal to have managed pain so that they can resume their regular activities. As pain often is accompanied by lack of appetite and lack of energy, these symptoms may be managed alongside pain or with different treatment methods. [2]

You and your medical team will determine what the right strategy for managing your chronic pain is. Medicine is only one step—acupuncture, massage and electrical stimulation are all treatments that are less-invasive and may help with some types of pain. [2] Nerve block therapy, botox injections, or surgery may also be required. [2] Biofeedback, psychotherapy, relaxation techniques, and behaviour modification (including posture retraining, increased movement, etc.), may also be a part of a person’s treatment plan. [2]

Because pain is subjective, the person experiencing chronic pain must take a very active role in dealing with their condition, even if no cause is determined. Self-management is crucial for managing pain, and can come with a variety of options to be used. Self-management plans formed by patients and doctors can provide both better pain management and empowerment for the patient. Pain management programs that are self-directed can increase ability to cope with pain, even if pain is not completely alleviated. [2] Programs often include options for dealing with pain and associated emotions (isolation, depression, fatigue, sleep problems), teach exercises appropriate to a person’s pain and pain levels, discuss communication with family members, friends, employers, and physicians, and how to use medicines effectively, evaluate new options for treatment, pace activity, and understand the role of nutrition in pain management [3]. A holistic or multi-faceted approach that engages the patient at every step of learning and implementing changes (often these programs are not run by the person’s doctor, but others who have been specially trained), and provides the patient more options in how to deal with their pain [4]. If you experience chronic pain, asking your doctor if this is a good step for you, may be an important first step in getting your pain under control.

No Chronic Pain Looks Alike

I have many friends with chronic pain, and their stories are all unique—as is everybody’s who lives with chronic pain. Because of this, wearing medical ID jewelry identifying your chronic pain and medical conditions is very important.

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