Have you been experiencing pain that lasts for more than 3 months?
How are you coping with this pain?
Are you one in 5 Australians who might be suffering from chronic pain?
What is chronic pain and why does it happen?
Often when you experience pain, it’s a signal from your body that something isn’t right.
It can prompt you to stop what you’re doing and take a look at what’s wrong. In many cases it is acute – a short lived pain that can be remedied pretty quickly.
However, if the pain has gone on more than the normal healing time of 3 months, it can be termed as being “chronic”, leading to something known as chronic pain syndrome [1, 2].
There are many conditions which can result in chronic pain, which include but are not limited to :
- Musculoskeletal disorders – eg. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia etc
- Neurological disorders – eg. Nerve compressions or spinal injury, headaches or TMJ issues
- Gastrointestinal or urologic disorders – eg. Cystitis, UTI’s, IBS, peptic ulcers
- Psychological disorders – eg. Depression and sleep disturbances
- Reproductive disorders – eg. Endometriosis
Unfortunately in some cases, the cause of the pain cannot be diagnosed specifically, which can be very frustrating for the patient.
The problem with chronic pain syndrome is that it can be very complex – and treatment usually needs to be multi-factorial.
From what we now know, chronic pain can actually change how the brain works, thereby changing the pathophysiology of the original condition [3, 4].
What is the impact of chronic pain?
Ongoing pain can affect people more than just physically. It will usually affect someone’s psychological and social behaviours as well.
Take for example someone who is suffering from chronic lower back pain –
- They may find it hard to walk, sit, stand or sleep comfortably
- This in turn can mean that sitting at work for long periods can make them feel sore and perhaps a bit cranky or
- If the person is unable to get enough quality sleep, that they can become irritable and fatigued
- Which would also impact their relationships with their family or colleagues. They may be less likely to play with the kids as it hurts when the kids jump on them, or it may also impact their performance at work as they are tired and fighting to just get through the day.
- It is not uncommon for people who are suffering from chronic pain to develop depression-like symptoms as a result of their pain .
So what can you do?
The treatment of chronic pain syndrome needs to be holistic in nature, given that it affects all parts of a person’s mental, emotional and social life.
It’s important for the person suffering from the pain to
- Educate themselves about pain – understanding why the pain in happening and how to manage your pain is paramount
- Pick the right team – it’s important to make sure that you’re confident in the professionals that you have supporting you in your journey – ideally they would be liaising with each other to make sure that you’re on the best course to wellness.
The most common approaches to managing chronic pain are:
- Consult with your medical professional – in some cases the cause of the pain may be easy to isolate, but sometimes it can take some time. Make sure that you get the appropriate scans or tests that you need
- Medication – in most cases this is good to make sure that you can function as many medications can often dull or mask the pain. I’s important to realise that it only stops the person from feeling the pain and that doesn’t mean that the pain isn’t still there. It’s important to acknowledge that as you start using regular pain medication, that sometimes these can be quite addictive and may also have long term side effects such as stomach ulcers. Be careful if you’re taking pain medication on a daily basis
- Other types of medication/medical intervention – depending on the severity and cause of the pain, your doctor may also suggest taking anti-inflammatory steroids, anticonvulsants or antidepressants. Nerve blockers and/or surgery are also alternative options for treatment that your doctor may discuss with you
- Physical activity – while sometimes pain is aggravated by exercise, it’s important to keep the body moving and active. In many cases, supporting and strengthening the body through prescribed and monitored exercise is a great way of managing the pain. See a registered fitness professional (eg. Pilates or yoga instructor or personal trainer) or and exercise physiologist who can monitor your progress. Having regular exercise can also increase the amount of endorphins your body produces, which can make you feel happier
- Talk to psychologist or counsellor – acknowledging that chronic pain can impact your work and personal relationships is a big thing. Often, we try to keep these things to ourselves so as not to burden others, but it can have the opposite effect of making people feel isolated or ignored – especially when they don’t know what’s going on
- Stress management – increasing stress will often increase the pain – learn how to meditate or remove yourself from consistently stressful situations that can aggravate the pain. Think happy thoughts and take control of your life – there is a lot of research behind the power of positive thinking, and by not focussing on the pain, you are choosing how you live your life
- Consume a healthy diet – try to avoid alcohol as while it may help you to cope with the situation, it is actually damaging your sleep patterns and creating other background issues. By eating a healthy diet, you’re supporting your body nutritionally to help it to heal as best it can
- Try other therapies – such as physiotherapy, osteopathic or chiropractic care, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), massage and/or kinesiology. The use of heat or cold packs can often help to alleviate the pain, as well as daily stretching.
References and more information can be found on the following websites –
Please note that the above serves as information only and we advise that if you are suffering from pain to please consult with your GP or preferred medical professional immediately.