What is chronic pain? How does this affect your daily life? Is this something that you can overcome? Is your life over once you have been diagnosed with this? Are you doomed to live the rest of your life alone because you are going to be confined to your home?
These are a just a few of the questions that many people have in their minds when they are given a diagnosis of having an illness that causes chronic pain.
It is normal to think about this. And maybe once during the history of time, chronic pain would have meant that you are confined to your bed and your home.
It could have meant having to change your life drastically. However, as the world of medicine has changed and we have done more research on chronic pain, we have found ways that people can easily live with this issue and still thrive.
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is defined as feeling pain in various parts of the body or throughout the body for weeks, months and years at a time.
This is not a pain that is going to end after a few days of taking medications or simply resting. Most medical professionals define chronic pain as being that which lasts for three to six months of longer.
And in this case, there must be not be an injury that is causing this pain. A person would be defined as having chronic pain if they experience this pain even after an injury has healed.
What Makes You Feel Chronic Pain?
This is an important question and one that most sufferers ask at one point or another when they are dealing with chronic pain.
What is making this pain register in your body? When you have an injury, the pain sensors within the area that has been injured are turned on.
These pain sensors then send an electrical signal from nerve to nerve until it gets to the brain. The brain then processes this signal and then sends out the message that you are hurt.
Of course, this process takes an instant, as this explains how you are able to move your hand as soon as it comes into contact with something that is hot.
However, with chronic pain, these process is happening constantly. Even if there is no injury that is present, the person will find that this messaging system is taking place. Even after the injury has healed, the nerves are still transmitting to the brain that you are in pain, as though you are still hurt.
What are the Causes of Chronic Pain?
There are several causes of chronic pain. In fact, it can become difficult to determine just why a person may be experiencing the chronic pain that they are complaining about. Some of the more common causes include:
- An injury that occurred in the past
- Pain may be left over from a surgery that was performed in the past
- Having migraines or other chronic headaches
- Back issues
- Having arthritis
- Suffering with nerve damage
- Having infections in the body
- Suffering with fibromyalgia, which is becoming a more popular reason for the chronic pain that people are feeling
- Having rheumatoid arthritis
- Having an underactive or overactive thyroid
- Dealing with chronic fatigue syndrome
- Having a buildup of certain toxins in the body, often seen in those who have silicone implants of some sort
- Having multiple sclerosis
And many more! Every day, researchers are coming up with new diseases and issues that are leading to chronic pain in those who have these.
The issue that many doctors find is that the chronic pain a person feels is not going to be easy to diagnose. And instead of spending countless hours and maybe even years trying to find the root cause of this issue, they are wasting their time.
Instead, they focus on looking at all areas of the person’s lives in hoping to not only find something that is physically causing this pain, but many any underlying social or physical issues that may be present as well.
Many doctors are convinced that the chronic pain that a person feels is often a psychosocial, social, economic and/or physical problem.
Many studies are showcasing that the chronic pain a person feels may not be due to anything physical that they have done in the past.
Assessing Chronic Pain
When a person has suffered with chronic pain for longer than 12 weeks, this is when they need to start talking with their doctor about their options.
What can be done in order to alleviate this chronic pain? Where is this chronic pain stemming from? These are all questions that need to be answered.
However, everyone should be aware that the process of diagnosing and treating this chronic pain is often long and painful.
It is also a process of trial and error for most people, so they should be prepared for a long road ahead of them.
One of the first things that a doctor will do is to assess where the person is at. They are going to look at the severity of the pain, the impact and the type of pain that the person is experiencing.
This assessment is going to include a look at their medical history, an exam of their physical selves, and physiological assessments to rule out other issues that may be present.
The Biomedical Assessment
The Biomedical Assessment is going to include several different aspects to ensure that everything is covered. These factors will be:
1- First things first, the doctor is going to look at your pain history. This is going to be very thoroughly.
The doctor may go back to when you were a child and if there were any broken bones, trauma or other issues that occurred.
This will also include your past medical history such as if you were treated for something serious, has any surgeries and the like.
2- A physical examination is going to take place in order to ensure there are no other issues present that could be causing this pain.
3- Previous investigations into the pain that you are feeling are also taken under consideration. This can be useful if this may be your second or third attempt at working with a doctor due to this chronic pain.
4- The treatments that you have been on in the past, and what you may be taking now, is all looked at thoroughly. You never know when the chronic pain is associated with a medication that you may have taken or are taking at this moment.
The Psychology Assessment
Along with the biological aspects of chronic pain, you have to look at the psychological side of things as well. When a doctor talks with a patient about their chronic pain, they are going to look at the psychological presence of the person.
For example, they may look at whether the person has a low mood, are suffering with anxiety or depression.
These are trademarks psychological issues that are known for causing a person to feel chronic pain.
In addition, the doctor will look at:
1- The psychiatric history of the person. For example, did they use drugs? Are they abusing alcohol or have they in the past? Do they have a history of addiction? Do they have a sexual or physical abuse in their past?
2- Are there issues present that point to an issue such as having no confidence, having poor motivations, they are reluctant to make any changes in their lives or they have unrealistic expectations of themselves.
The Social Assessment
Doctors also look at a patient’s social self. They look at:
- Are they able to take care of themselves?
- What is their occupation? And how well are they performing at this?
- Is there a family influence on their pain?
- Are they dissatisfied at work?
- Do they have something to gain if they were to be proven to have chronic pain and unable to perform daily duties?
While most would like to think that if you suffer with chronic pain others would not try to imitate these issues.
However, that is not the way in which the world is working. Many people will try to prove that they have chronic pain to no longer have to work or other issues they may be facing.
Therefore, the assessment for proving chronic pain is often long and complicated!
The Yellow Flags
While doctors are performing these assessments, they are looking for what they term yellow flags.
Yellow flags are indicators that suggest an increased risk of progression to a long term issue.
For example, these yellow flags are often something that shows doctors they are dealing with someone who has chronic pain for whatever reason.
These yellow flags include:
- The person has severe pain that is throughout the body
- This pain has been increasing as they age
- There are multiple sites on the body that are painful
- The person is showing signs that they are not including themselves in their lives due to the pain. They may be showing signs of avoidable behavior or the like.
- The person is not able to solve problems, as the pain is affecting the way in which they think.
- They show little to no confidence, as the chronic pain has greatly affected how they feel about themselves.
There are several other yellow flags, and each doctor is going to have those that they hold higher than others in determining whether a person has chronic pain or not.
Coping with the Chronic Pain
One of the factors that patients are told they will have to do is to cope with this pain that they are feeling.
How can this happen though when the pain becomes too much for a person to stand? Doctors find that there are two main coping methods: passive and active.
Passive coping is considered to be overall more detrimental to your health. How so? It is associated what with:
- Increased pain
- Increased disability
- More depression
For those who are showings signs of passive coping they may be staying at home rather than going with friends or family to areas.
They simply rely on their doctor to give them a prescription to help with the pain. In many cases, the person sits at home all day, not moving much, as they fear that they will cause even more pain.
However, they are not really doing anything that is going to help themselves at all.
Active coping is the coping that doctors want to see. Even though the person is suffering with chronic pain, they are still doing things in life.
Those that cope actively has been shown to have less pain, less chances of being disabled and having less depression.
They are the people who are not letting this issue stop them. While they may be in pain, they muscle through this and continue with their lives.
Managing Chronic Pain
There are several tactics that can be used in order to manage chronic pain. What works for one person may not work for another.
However, this is something that will have to be worked on for several months. Do not expect the first treatment plan that you get to work wonders forever.
With this being said, the optimal treatment pain and managing this pain is going to involve a team of professionals.
Not only are you going to work with doctors, but you are going to work with therapists, both physical and mental, along with nurses and even your pharmacist.
This is the approach that many find to work the best since they are getting the knowledge of all of these professionals!
The person will also want to look at self-management in conjunction with what these professionals are suggesting.
Through doing all of this, they will find some relief, and in many cases, they find complete relief.
One option that many people find works well at first is the use of non-opioid analgesics, both of those that are taken internally or those that are topical.
These options can include:
- Using NSAID’s that are available over the counter at your local store
- Paracetamol can be used alone or with NSAID’s for optimal comfort
- Topical NSAID’s can be helpful for those who are feeling pain in a certain areas. This is a great option for those who cannot take NSAID’s orally due to issues that arise.
- Capsaicin patches that are put onto the skin can be a great instant relief as they start working better and better.
- Topical lidocaine is another topical solution that has been shown to help with tenderness and pain in certain areas of the body.
- For those who do not find relief with capsaicin or lidocaine, they are going to find that there is also topical rubefacients that are used in those who cannot tolerate the other options.
Opioids are only given with the non-opioid methods are not giving a person the relief that they seek.
These are only given when the ongoing pain is becoming too much for the person.
However, there are a few things to consider when a person is given opioids for their chronic pain.
These issues are:
1- These patients have to be accessed regularly in order to notice any changes with pain relief, any side effects and if taking this medication is interfering with their daily life.
2- It is also something that will gradually be reduced to ensure that you are not taking too much of these drugs than what is necessary.
3- Addiction is something that has to be monitoring seriously.
4- Different opioids may have to be used throughout the course of treatment in order to find the one that works best for the person.
IN many cases, a person is referred to a specialist when they are having to deal with pain that requires these types of drugs.
The specialist will have a better understanding of what to do and how much to start the person on.
Many doctors have found that giving antidepressants to those who suffer with chronic pain is becoming very helpful.
Specifically, they prescribe the tricyclic antidepressants. Luckily, these can be given in a fairly low dose as they relieve pain as the lowest doses possible.
These are something that must be taken every day, and it takes several weeks for a person to see the difference.
These medications are often given to those who suffer with seizures. However, for those who have chronic pain that involves a burning or shooting pain, these medications can make a difference.
The antiseizure medications can have a few side effects, as they are long term medications that are taken for pain.
However, these side effects are often nothing compared to the chronic pain that the person is feeling.
These are medications that can be taken as needed. In most cases, those who have chronic pain may on occasion find that hefty have muscle spasms due to the clenching of these muscles from the pain.
Thus, these medications can relieve this pain and spasm once they have been taken. They often do cause drowsiness which is why many people prefer not to take these unless completely necessary.
There have been several studies that show those who are looking to rid their bodies of chronic pain only need to look so far as to what they are eating.
After all, the saying “You are what you eat”, is a saying for a reason. Some of the foods that many people find to be worse for chronic pain include:
Sugar and artificial sweeteners
These can actually make pain worse and they also increase inflammation in the body.
These should be limited if they cannot be cut out completely. Be sure that you are paying attention to all the foods that you eat, as sugar is often a hidden ingredient in many!
While you may think that it is the caffeine that gives you the boost you need to get going, and it may be, you will regret this later. Caffeine can make you crash later, which makes the pain even worse.
These veggies include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and those peppers that are both sweet and hot. These veggies have alkaloids in them, which has been shown to make pain even worse.
Yeast and Gluten
Both of these can contribute to pain becoming worse. This is why so many go to a diet that does not include either of these.
This has been known to contribute to pain due to the protein that is in the dairy products.
You can get your protein from other sources if you are set on reducing the pain that you are feeling.
Greasy foods, such as those that you eat out, are also bad for those who are dealing with chronic pain.
There are several therapies in which someone who suffers with chronic pain can utilize in order to help get back their full life.
One of the biggest problems with chronic pain is that this does affect their daily functioning.
1- Occupational Therapy
This therapy is vital in helping to condition a person to the pain that they are feeling. This approach will go through what hurts the person, long with how far they can get before the pain takes over.
Through utilizing this therapy, a person has a better understanding of their limits. They will also find that as they progress in this therapy that they will have wider ranges within their pain threshold.
2- Recreational Therapy
This therapy is great for finding activities that are going to keep the person active, while also reducing the pain that they are experiencing.
In most cases, those who have chronic pain are depressed since they are losing out on what they once loved to do.
This therapy is meant to replace this loss with some gains to make the person feel as though they are not missing out, while also getting them more activity.
3- Physical Therapy
The goal of any physical therapy program is meant to increase their strength and flexibility.
Working with a physical therapist simply ensures that the person does not get hurt in the process of improving their bodies. PT tactics that may be used include:
- Hot and/or cold applications
- Positioning exercises
- Stretching exercises
- Ultra sonographic therapy
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
It has been found that physical therapy can carry a great deal of help for those who do suffer with chronic pain.
4- TENS Therapy
This is something that is often associated with a physical therapist, as it was mentioned above. However, many doctors make this a required therapy of its own.
TENS stands for Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. With this therapy electrodes are placed in areas of great pain, and then a small shock is sent through these nerves.
It is meant to desensitize the nerve and help the person to better function with the pain that they have.
Skin hypersensitivity is a common effect of having this therapy but most find that this disappears on its own.
5- Psychophysiological Therapy
This is a therapy that deals with the mental side of having chronic pain. This therapy will be helpful for those who simply want someone to talk to about the many side effects of having chronic pain.
For example, the person may talk about how they are feeling depressed due to the pain or stressed.
The therapist will then look at stress management and relaxation techniques that the person can utilize in order to get their mental self back into check.
These therapists often use biofeedback techniques as well, which have been proven helpful.
These tactics can help to reduce the pain through learning what triggers the human body may have, and how to avoid these in the future.
6- Vocational Therapy
Vocational therapy is often recommended for those individuals who need to work but have chronic pain.
This there is going to look at what level the person can function at, then help the person to gain employment in a field that is not going to cause their pain to flare up even more.
It can be great for those who still wish to have gainful employment, but are unsure of where to go for this.
7- Massage Therapy
Massage therapy is one of the oldest therapies in the world. However, many doctors are now realizing just how beneficial this can be to those who suffer with chronic pain.
Massage will help to stimulate the blood flow, and for many patients, they report having less pain thanks to the increased blood flow.
In addition, they often find that this is super relaxing, which can help to lower the pain that they are feeling.
While acupuncture is not a traditional therapy, there has been many people who find that this greatly helps to relieve their pain.
With this type of treatment, small needles are placed throughout the area that may hurt the worse.
Through putting these needles in, it releases the endogenous opioids naturally found in the body, helping to relieve pain.
Injections into Problem Areas
One of the management techniques that seems fairly promising in the world of chronic pain are injections. There are several different types of injections.
These injections are meant to help block the nerve from sending and receiving pain signals, allowing the body to go back to normal without this pain.
Due to how effective they are, they are becoming fairly popular with patients who are dealing with this pain on a routine basis.
There are several different types of injections that a person can utilize.
1- Epidural Steroid Injection
This is placed into the back or neck in order to alleviate pain in the back, leg, neck or arm area. The steroid in the injection is meant to calm the nerve.
2- Facet Joint Injection
This is placed into the facet joints that are in the spine to help with neck and back pain.
3- Lumbar Sympathetic Block
These injections are placed into the lumbar sympathetic chain to relieve the pain.
There are other injections that are on the market that can be given to patients.
However, they are all meant to treat a certain pain that the person is feeling.
In most cases, a person is limited to how often they can receive these shots to ensure there is not permanent damage from receiving these.
Herbal Remedies for Treating Chronic Pain
For those who would prefer to take a more natural method for treating their chronic pain, they will find that there are several herbal remedies on the market that are meant to help with this.
However, remember that herbal treatments can interact with medications that your doctor has prescribed.
This is why it is a must to discuss these herbal treatments with your doctor as well.
And also remember that herbal treatments are often very slow at rearing results, thus it could take a few months to really start seeing improvements in the level of pain that you have.
1- Willow Bark
This has been used for thousands of years in treating pain, inflammation and fevers. The active ingredient in this herb is called salicin which was first used to develop aspirin.
Several studies have found that juicing the leaves of cannabis plants has proven beneficial for those with chronic pain.
In addition, this method has less side effects that most traditional methods of treating pain.
This is a power anti-inflammatory herb that has been known for treating arthritis along with other chronic pain issues.
4- Kava Kava
This herb is known for reducing anxiety, easing the nerves, relaxing the muscles and thus putting an end to the pain that a person is feeling. When the chronic pain a person feels has a psychological component, this is an herb that can help with all the issues.
This is an herb that is native to North America. It has been used by people for over 200 years in treating nervous tension, convulsions, pain and anxiety.
6- Devil’s Claw
This is one of the more effective herbal supplements out there for pain, as it has been approved in Germany as a non-prescription pain medication. It has shown that it can help to alleviate pain in as little as ten days. It is most often used in place of NSAIDs.
7- Red Seaweed
This is a supplement that is rich in calcium and magnesium. These are two minerals that many people with chronic pain do not have enough of in their bodies.
8- Fish Oil
Fish oil has been shown to help those with joint pain, and in many cases, those who have chronic pain. In addition, it has heart healthy benefits that everyone will enjoy.
Treating Chronic Pain at Home
Many people who suffer with chronic pain find that some simple changes in their home can help dramatically with the pain that they are feeling.
This may mean adding a few things into your life or not doing some things that are too physically demanding. Here are a few at home treatments that have been shown helpful.
Taking a few minutes each hour or maybe even an hour each night to meditate has been shown to greatly help with chronic pain. Why is this?
It can help lower your stress levels, which often cause a person to feel even more pain.
Plus, this gives you time to simply process your day and get over anything that has caused depression or anxiety, which are two ailments that make chronic pain worse.
Exercising may seem counterinitiative when you are dealing with chronic pain. However, for those who exercise regularly, they often find that the pain is less.
This is because they are improving the strength of their muscles, while also increasing their flexibility.
Try starting out slowly and maybe even taking a few guided classes with professionals who are dealing specifically with those who have chronic pain.
This is a form of exercise that can prove to be highly beneficial to those who do it!
This exercise is all about strength and flexibility, two of the elements that can greatly help those who are suffering with chronic pain.
Take a dip in the pool can be great for pain relief. Those who have chronic pain often find that just getting in a pool and walking around helps with their pain so much that they feel refreshed afterwards.
A heated pool is a great option since the heat can actually limber the muscles up a bit more than cool water.
5- Take lukewarm showers
Lukewarm showers can help to ease the pain that the person is feeling all the time. However, be careful that this is not too hot, as you could scald your skin.
6- Use warm packs
Warm packs can offer some relief to problem areas when you are dealing with chronic pain.
You can use this a few times per day, just do not use this on irritated skin as it can cause issues and reduce healing time.
7- Distract yourself
Many people who suffer with chronic pain find that the best remedy is learning how to distract themselves. Many may pick up puzzles or books to help keep their mind otherwise occupied.
11 Tips When Dealing with Chronic Pain
Living with chronic pain is not something that has to rule your life. You can conquer this so that you have a normal life that is only mildly affected by the pain.
With this being said, here are a few tips to keep in mind that every person who suffers with this chronic pain is going to want to remember.
- Stress is going to main the pain worse. Learn methods that work for you to relax and let the stress melt away.
- Try to avoid alcohol or at least cut back. Alcohol interferes with sleep problems, and those who do not sleep well often find that the pain is intensified.
- Avoid smoking and other tobacco products as this can make chronic pain worse.
- Try to track your pain level every day along with what you are doing. This can give you a clear guide on what you should and should not do in order to avoid higher pain levels.
- Eat healthy as the foods you eat can greatly affect the level of chronic pain that you are dealing with.
- Ease yourself into new activities that are physical to allow your body to get accustomed to this.
- Remember that it is okay to take a nap or take a break when the pain becomes too much.
- You must listen to your body! If you find that the pain is becoming worse, then talk with your doctor as there could be something that is amiss.
- Always talk with your doctor about the medications or supplements that you are taking to avoid any issues with interaction.
- Find a support group and shoulders that you can lean on. Those who suffer with chronic pain often feel as though they are alone in the world. That is not the case. There are several support groups that are there for help.
- Take the advice of your doctor and utilize the various therapies that have been previously mentioned.
Remember, chronic pain does not have to rule your life. With the proper treatment and some time, you can take back control of your life.
While chronic pain is always going to be there, no one should let this pain rule every decision that they make.