Chronic pain can make your life difficult. If left unchecked, it can destroy your career, love, relationships, goals, and whatnot. As a result, you are left with nothing but agony and guilt.
According to 2019 stats, 20.4% of world adults are affected by chronic pain. About 25% of people with chronic pain develop a more serious health condition called chronic pain syndrome (CPS).
Chronic pain syndrome is a more severe condition where people show symptoms beyond pain. In addition to pain, they may show symptoms of depression and anxiety which affects the way of life.
Some interesting facts about chronic pain:
- Chronic pain is the No. 1 cause of disability and disease burden globally.
- More than 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience chronic pain.
- Approximately 8% of adults have high-impact chronic pain.
- It can have multiple causes or no cause at all.
- Chronic pain affects more women than men.
- Approximately 75% of cancer patients live with chronic pain.
- Your attitude can affect your pain.
- People with chronic pain are susceptible to develop depression and anxiety.
- People with chronic pain have at least twice the risk of suicide than those without chronic pain.
- It can affect your sleep quality.
What is pain?
Pain can be defined as an uncomfortable feeling/sensation in the body. It is a sensation that triggers warning signs to our brain to alert us of possible health risks or injuries.
It tells you that something is wrong and needs immediate attention. You can describe the pain as aching, stinging, throbbing, pinching, stabbing, steady, etc.
The nervous system is responsible for signaling the brain of the pain and the possible cause of the pain. So when an injury occurs to the body, the pain signal first travels to the nervous system. It is then received by the spinal cord which is then forwarded to the brainstem and then to the brain. Finally, pain is registered in the brain.
Pain can be categorized into four different types. They are:
1. Acute pain
Acute pain is a type of pain that typically lasts no more than six months. It starts out sharp or intense before gradually improving over time with treatment.
Some of the common causes of acute pain are:
- Burns or cuts
- Broken bones
- Major surgery
- Dental works
- Labor and childbirth
2. Nociceptive pain
Nociceptive pain is the most common of pain. It can be defined as pain caused due to physical damage or potential damage to the body.
Nociceptors are the receptors in your nervous system. These receptors are activated only when you receive some kind of injury to your body.
When the nociceptors get stimulated by potential harm such as a cut or other injuries, it sends pain signals to the brain, causing you to feel pain.
Simply put, nociceptive pain occurs when there is an ongoing tissue injury.
Types of nociceptive pain:
Nociceptive pain can either be acute or chronic depending upon the types of injury sustained.
2.1 Somatic pain. It occurs when the pain receptors within the tissue get stimulated.
Somatic pain examples:
- muscle strains
- skin cuts and burns
- fractured bones
- skin cancer
2.2 Visceral pain. It results due to the internal injury sustained by the internal organs.
Visceral pain examples:
- irritable bowel syndrome
3. Neuropathic pain
Neuropathic pain or nerve pain is associated with the nervous system. It results from damage to or dysfunction of the nervous system. In other words, it is the pain that occurs due to damage to the brain, spinal cord, or peripheral nerves.
The pain that you feel due to nerve pain is completely different from other types of pain. Some people with nerve pain reported experiencing stabbing pain in the middle of their sleep. While others reported experiencing burn and tangling throughout the day.
Causes of neuropathic pain:
- central nervous system disorder
- spinal nerve inflammation or compression
- carpel tunnel syndrome
4. Chronic pain
Chronic pain or persistent pain can be defined as pain that lasts for more than six months. It is an ongoing pain that continues even after the injury or illness causing the pain has healed. The pain may feel severe or dull and might be persisting or periodic in nature.
Following are some of the examples of chronic pain.
- Migraine and headache,
- strains and sprints in muscle,
- lower back pain,
- neck pain,
- postsurgical pain,
- cancer pain,
- ulcer pain,
- arthritis pain,
- broken bones,
- psychogenic pain,
- Nerve damage, etc.
A person may suffer from two or more chronic pain at once. These types of condition may include:
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- inflammatory bowel disease
- temporomandibular joint dysfunction
- interstitial cystitis
The American Chronic Pain Association has classified chronic pain into two broad categories. They are neuropathic pain and nociceptive pain.
Most Common Types of Chronic Pain
Following are the most common chronic pain types affecting millions worldwide.
1. Chronic Back Pain
Chronic back pain is usually age-related. But it may result due to an injury or develop progressively due to arthritis and osteoporosis. It usually starts in the lower back before creeping its way up to the upper back.
2. Chronic Headaches
Chronic headache is any normal headache that occurs frequently, usually 15 days a month for no less than three months in succession.
3. Chronic Joint Pain
Joint pain is a common condition that may result due to old age, injury, infection, or arthritis. It is one of the leading causes of chronic pain in the United States.
4. Chronic Nerve Pain
Chronic nerve pain mainly results due to progressive/chronic nerve disease. It affects one in every ten Americans according to a study by Mayo Clinic School of Medicine.
Symptoms of Chronic Pain
As mentioned earlier, chronic pain in people can range from mild to severe depending upon the cause of the pain. Furthermore, it can persist for many days and even weeks without a break. Or it may periodically come and go from time to time.
The following symptoms may be seen in a person suffering from chronic pain:
- May experience a dull or sharp pain,
- Inflammation and burning sensation,
- May feel like shooting or stinging,
- Often feels like squashing,
- Feeling very tired or wiped out
- Loss of appetite,
- Sleeping difficulty,
- Mood swings,
- May experience weakness and lack of energy, etc.
Acute Pain Vs Chronic Pain
|Acute Pain||Chronic Pain|
|It may lasts 3-6 months||6 months+|
|It results due to burns and cuts, surgery, broken bones, dental work, labor and childbirth.||backpain, headache. arthritis, cancer. nerve pain. fibromyalgia.|
|It is usually sharp in nature.||The nature pf pain may vary.|
|The pain goes away once the cause of pain is taken cure of.||The pain may persist even when the cause of pain is cured.|
Chronic Pain Syndrome
Chronic pain syndrome is a more serious health condition where a person shows signs of depression and anxiety on top of pain.
It is often mistaken for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). It has symptoms such as extreme fatigue without any underlying medical condition.
Chronic pain syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome are two completely different cases. But they share a common characteristic i.e. the actual cause of both CPS and CFS is unknown.
Pain specialists believe that chronic pain syndrome is often caused as a result of:
- Problems in the nervous systems and glands that handle the stress. As a result, they feel pain differently than the rest.
- It is common in people with mental disorders such as stress, anxiety, and depression.
- CPS is a learned response that makes the person with chronic pain repeat certain behaviors even after they are completely healed.
The actual cause of chronic pain syndrome is still a mystery. But, one thing is clear though i.e. treatment for chronic pain syndrome requires a lot of time and money.
Chronic Pain Complications
There are both short-term and long-term effects of chronic pain on the body.
The short term effects of chronic pain include:
1. Depression. People with chronic pain syndrome can show signs of depression. It is a mental disorder that adversely affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act.
2. Anxiety. The fear of pain can make people anxious. Severe chronic pain is associated with more severe anxiety symptoms.
3. Insomnia. Sleep loss is common in people with chronic pain. They find it difficult to fall asleep and even when they do their sleep gets interrupted due to the onset of pain. As a result, people experience frequent mood swings
4. Weakness. It is common for chronic pain patients to feel weak and tired as a result of recurring pain. They may lack physical strength and energy even to perform basic tasks.
5. Lack of motivation. People with chronic pain may lack the motivation to go on with their life. They may give up on the idea to live a decent and quality life.
The long-term effects of chronic pain include:
6. Guilty feeling. People with severe chronic pain often have to rely on others to live. Having to rely upon others to make a living can make them feel guilty.
7. Suicidal thoughts. Not everyone is brave enough to live a life full of pain and misery. As a result, some may give up on the idea to co-exist with pain and humiliation and develop suicidal thoughts.
8. Problems in marriage and family life. People with severe chronic pain may face problems in marriage and family life.
9. Loss of interest in sex. It is no rocket science that one needs to be physically and mentally fit to show interest in things such as sex. People with chronic pain fear that they may experience pain more than pleasure. As a result, they eventually lose interest in sex.
10. Substance abuse. It is common for people with chronic pain to seek the comfort of illicit substances to soothe their pain.
Chronic Pain Risk Factors
There are many risk factors associated with chronic pain. A majority of these factors play an important role in developing chronic pain. These factors include old age, genes, gender, mental well being, lifestyle, foods and nutrition, body weight, multiple diseases, and other chronic diseases.
There is no age restriction for developing chronic pain. Anyone can suffer from it at any time. It is, however, more common in old adults. Women too are more at risk when compared to men. This might have something to do with their lower tolerance to pain and suffering.
1. Severe Pain:
Pain, as we have discussed earlier, is a sensation that travels from the pain site down to the nervous system and makes its way up to the brain. The severity of pain is directly proportional to the number of pain sites across one’s body.
If someone experiences severe acute pain, chances are there are a great number of pain sites that may soon lead to severe chronic pain.
Chronic pain can make changes within your brain. These changes are responsible for your long term sufferings due to chronicity.
Studies suggest that the brain changes that occur due to chronic pain are reversible if someone with it goes under effective treatment (physical therapy). This is more than a good enough reason for managing chronic pain in order to help prevent chronicity.
2. Old age:
Age is not just a number when it comes to diseases and illnesses. As you grow old, your physical body grows weak by the day. You become more susceptible to pain and suffering.
Even minor physical injuries can make you incapable and the worst part of aging is that medication becomes less effective. Your body takes much longer to heal itself even with proper medication and care.
Another part of growing old is that you become a disease hub. You are more at risk of disease going out of control and taking over your body. There are many chronic diseases and illnesses which gradually show their signs as you grow old and feeble.
You are more at risk of developing chronic diseases such as high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, arthritis pain, etc. These diseases can put huge pressure on your body.
As a result, the severity of acute pain can keep growing which may take the shape of a chronic pain and later into chronic pain syndrome.
You must be aware of the problematic genes and how they affect one’s behavior and lifestyle. The same genes might as well play an important role in developing chronic pain. It is however still unknown whether there are any genes that are directly associated with pain.
But recent studies suggest that a number of genes along with lifestyle and behavioral factor contributes to developing chronic pain. So you might as well go ahead and blame your genes and your unhealthy lifestyle if you want to when it comes to developing it in the first place.
4. Female Sex:
Male and female are different not just in physical appearance or anatomically but also psychologically. In general, males tend to have a stronger mentality and a greater pain tolerance capacity in comparison to females.
This is one reason why females are more likely to overreact to a similar magnitude of pain. Plus they also are more likely to overthink things which makes them a great candidate for developing depression. Since depression is bad news when it comes to chronic pain, women are more likely to develop it.
Females are, however, not at a disadvantage since they can benefit greatly from multimodal pain management programs in comparison to men. They are more likely to recover faster from it by undergoing proper medication.
5. Mental Well-Being:
Pain isn’t just physical. It is more than that. If you remember correctly, the sensation of pain if intercepted by your brain and only then you feel pain and suffering.
Thus your mental well being is equally important when it comes to experiencing pain or managing pain. Mental conditions such as depression and anxiety can alter the way you experience pain.
You are more at risk of developing chronic pain if you are someone with poor mental health. The same true another way around. If you have chronic pain, you are more likely to develop these mental conditions.
So, your mental well being and chronic pain have a deeper connection than you originally might have thought. Also, there is no denying the fact that effective treatment of chronic pain includes the management of anxiety and depressive symptoms.
A healthy lifestyle is the foundation of a healthy body and brain. You are more at risk of developing chronic pain if you are someone who is living an unhealthy lifestyle.
Plus your profession, employment status, social background, etc also determine whether you will develop it or not. Someone who is jobless and is suffering from acute pain can develop chronic pain in no time at all.
Similarly, if you are someone who needs to do manual labor for survival than chances are you will develop arthritics pain in the future. The pain in the joints will soon take the turn for the worse as you have no access to proper medication and treatment leading to chronic pain.
Studies also suggest that people who come from poor socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to suffer from severe pain which can soon develop into chronic pain.
Additionally, your habits also determine the way you feel pain. If you are someone who enjoys smoking a lot you are more likely to register greater pain areas that affect the severity of pain. Higher the severity of pain you feel, the higher is the chances of developing chronic pain.
7. Foods and Nutrition:
They say “what you eat is what you become,” and there is truth to the statement since eating healthy foods helps you to grow healthy and strong and vice versa. Food is the essence of our life. We obtain all the essential nutrients required by our body from our foods. That goes for our brain too.
Lack of essential nutrients can lead to different diseases and illnesses. These diseases and illnesses generate pain signals which are then intercepted by the spinal cord and get delivered to your brain. Thus giving you the sensation of pain and suffering which in the worst case can take the shape of chronic pain.
Also, your brain plays an important role in determining the severity of pain. It is important to maintain proper brain health which is only possible by consuming essential nutrients required by your brain. And these nutrients can only be obtained from the food you eat making it even more important for you to eat foods rich in essential nutrients.
Additionally, foods rich in omega 3 and omega 6 helps in reducing inflammation. Consuming foods such as fish that are rich in omega 3 is found to reduce pain occurring due to arthritis.
Arthritis is known to cause chronic pain in some people. So we can assume that food and nutrition play a determining role when it comes to developing chronic pain.
8. Body Weight:
Being overweight or obese is not a good thing even in normal conditions. It increases your chances of suffering from heart diseases such as heart attack and stroke. One experiences severe pain due to stroke or an attack which can lead to chronic pain.
Additionally, you are more likely to suffer from pain in the joints, arthritis due to the excess weight your body puts on the joints. The pain in the joints can get worse if you keep gaining more weight.
The only option here is to lose your excess body weight. In fact, losing a few pounds can have a positive impact on your body. Thus it is important that you work out to lose your excess body weight quickly. :
9. Sleeping Disorder:
Sleeping is one way of giving your body and brain some time to rest and recuperate. You cannot go on and on without proper rest. It also affects your health and the way you experience pain.
If you are someone with a sleeping problem i.e. someone who has a problem falling sleep in the first place or someone who cannot maintain quality sleep for long, chances are you end up developing foul mood.
You grow irritated and if things continue in a similar fashion for a longer period of time, your mental health is compromised. Soon you may end up developing anxiety or get depressed which is bad news when it comes to developing chronic pain.
You might be interested in Insonia: A Sleeping Disorder or a Disease…Insomnia definition, Types, Symptoms, Causes, Effects, and Insomnia Cure.
Chronic Pain Management
There is no actual chronic pain treatment at present. It can, however, be managed successfully with chronic pain medications such as pain relievers and behavioral therapy. Your pain is often more emotional than physical and can be relieved by managing your emotions.
Below we have listed some of the effective pain management methods which you can practice at home in order to reduce pain.
1. Practicing Mindfulness Meditation:
Chronic pain is associated with people’s emotions as much as it does with their physical conditions. In fact, some types of chronic pain are complete without any previous physical injuries or ongoing infections. They are completely psychological and require the person to change his/her emotions in order to get relieved from the pain.
Not just psychogenic pain but all types of chronic can be managed with the help of mindfulness. By practicing mindfulness every day one can have a better understanding of the emotions associated with the pain.
Understanding the cause of pain actually helps in taking away half of the pain that occurs mainly due to fear of the unknown.
Many studies have also found that practicing mindfulness even for a single day helps to significantly relieve chronic pain. So you might as well consider practicing mindfulness every day at least for 10-15 minutes.
New to meditation and mindfulness??? Here’s a Complete Meditation Guide: Meditation for life to help you get started.Introduction to meditation, definition, meditative types, meditation and mindfulness, benefits of meditation, beginners guide to meditation.
2. Weight Management for Chronic Pain:
Overweight even in normal conditions are harmful to our body. It is associated with several medical conditions such as a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some types of cancer.
And when it is accompanied by some kind of chronic pain, the situation is even worse. Chronic pain that occurs due to arthritis pain may worsen even further due to excess body weight that puts extra pressure on the joints of your body.
It is thus important that you manage your body weight to avoid further complications which might occur as a result of being overweight on top of having chronic pain.
The best way to manage your weight would be to go on a vegetarian diet which is free of animal fat. Eating foods rich in vitamins and fibers but low in fat content helps in weight management.
If you prefer eating non-veg than fish and poultry could be your best option. Fish is a rich source of protein whereas poultry is a good source of lean meat. Both of which contribute to weight management.
3. Stay Physically Active:
Most of the people who suffer from chronic pain fear body movements and thus prefer to sit back or lay down most of the time. In fact, it is the worst thing to do and may even worsen your present condition.
There are some exceptional cases though such as if you are someone who is suffering from arthritis or back pain, it is wise to limit your physical moments as much as possible.
It is important that you know the difference between working your body out and overworking it. While overworking out your body when you are in some kind of pain is a no-no, it is, however, important that you work your body out regularly.
Regular workout sessions help in relieving the stress hormones in your body. These stress hormones can cause the pain to worsen if not kept in check. A simple session of yoga, taking a walk, aerobics can prove highly beneficial.
So, make sure you do not miss your chances of working out just because you fear the pain will get worsen.
4. Stay Positive:
You might have already guessed this next step i.e. to stay positive. It is a time like this that tests your patience and your capacity to cope up. Staying positive is a great way of encouraging yourself to have faith and patience.
It allows you to stay motivated to go on with life without giving up. No matter how severe your pain might be, staying positive gives you the courage to handle the pain. Furthermore, it helps you to avoid emotional trauma such as stress, anxiety, depression, etc. which may lead to chronic pain syndrome (CPS).
5. Seek Support From Friends and Family:
It is always better to fight your battles with the ones you can trust and can seek support. Friends and family are what you exactly need at times like this. They provide you with a helping hand to fight your battle against pain.
It feels good to have people who care for you sticking to you at times of need. It provides you with the courage to stay strong and fight. Most of your pain associated with your worries and emotions will go away, if not completely.
People with recurring pain are like broken clay dolls fixed with glue. They may look normal at first glance but if you observe them closely, you’ll see the cracks in them. It is best that you handle them with care.
There’s no telling whether you will or will not develop chronic pain. But one thing is for sure everyone suffers from some acute pain once in a while. And if you don’t act properly or take measures to subdue your pain, it may develop into chronic pain in no time at all.
It is important that you do not neglect even the slightest of the pain and the pain stimuli. Because there is no telling whether the pain you are experiencing now is acute or chronic in nature. So, it would be wise to consult a physician or a doctor in case you find anything suspicious about your pain or how it originated.
If you are someone who is suffering from chronic pain, make sure you follow the above-mentioned ways of managing your pain. It might take some time to show the results but ultimately, you’ll surely benefit from the pain management program.