Chronic pain can leave you devastated for life and your quality of life will be compromised beyond expectations. It is a common medical condition affecting over 50 million Americans. Especially, old adults are highly affected.
But before we jump into knowing about chronic pain is we must first understand pain. Pain is a sensation that triggers warning signs to our brain to alert you of possible health risks or injuries. Our nervous system is responsible for signaling the brain of the pain and the possible cause of the pain.
So when an injury occurs in our body (external or internal) the pain signal first travels to the nervous system which is then received by the spinal cord which is then forwarded to the brainstem and then to the brain where the pain is registered.
But in case of chronic pain, the pain signals keep firing in the nervous system for a longer period of time. It might take months or even years in some cases to subdue the sensation of pain. The pain may feel severe or dull and might be persisting or periodic in nature.
Defining Chronic Pain:
Chronic pain is can be described as ongoing or recurring pain, one that is more severe than acute pain and lasts for more than three to six months or even years. Simply put, it is a pain that lasts for months and sometimes years.
It occurs when your body is dealt with severe damage due to major incidents, severe infections, or due to ongoing causes of pain such as cancer pain, arthritis pain, etc. The nature of pain might be different depending upon the infected area (can be any part of the body).
It might as well occur even when there are no previous injuries or ongoing causes of pain. These types of chronic pain occur mainly due to a person’s miss perception of pain. The best way to deal with these types of pain is to practice mindfulness.
There are some cases where a person may have two or more chronic pain all at once. These types of conditions may include chronic fatigue syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, interstitial cystitis, and vulvodynia.
Types of Chronic Pain
According to American Chronic Pain Association chronic pain can be classified into two broad categories. They are:
1. Neuropathic pain(Nerve Pain):
Neuropathic pain or nerve pain is the pain that you experience when your nerves themselves are damaged or due to malfunctioning 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.
2. Nociceptive pain:
Nociceptors are the receptors in your nervous system. These receptors are activated only when you receive some kinds of injury to your body. But there are times when your nociceptors get activated due to some injury and cannot turn off.
As a result, they go wild spreading the message of pain even after your injuries are healed. This type of pain is known as nociceptive pain.
Simply put, nociceptive pain occurs when there is an ongoing tissue injury.
Some Known 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.
What is Chronic Pain Syndrome?
Nearly 20% of the world population have chronic pain. Among them, nearly 375 million i.e. 25% of the people develop a condition termed as chronic pain syndrome. It is often mistaken for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) which is a completely different case.
Chronic pain syndrome is characterized by pain along with symptoms of anxiety and depression. Whereas chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by extreme fatigue that cannot be explained by any other underlying medical condition.
There’s however some similarities between the two i.e. between CPS and CFS. The actual causes of both CPS and CFS are yet to be known.
But pain specialists believe that recurring pain syndrome often starts with chronic pain (chronic pain examples) such as;
- 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.
The cause behind CPS may have something to do with the mental and physical condition of an individual. The opinion of pain specialists on the matter vary. Below we have mentioned some of the most common opinions which will prove helpful in understanding the reason behind CPS;
- CPS has something to do with a problem in the nervous systems and glands that are used to handle stress. As a result, they feel pain differently than the rest.
- CPS is a learned response that makes the person with chronic pain repeat certain behaviors even after they are completely healed.
- Chronic pain syndrome is common in people with some major disorders such as anxiety, stress, mental health, and women.
Chronic pain syndrome is very difficult to cure and requires a lot of time in medication and counseling. If left untreated, it can highly compromise the quality of life of the person suffering from it.
Chronic Pain Complications
It is highly possible for someone with chronic pain to develop complications such as depression, anxiety, sleep loss, etc. But not everyone will experience complications.
There are other factors that come into play when it comes to developing complications and pain playing a major role. We have listed some of the complications below;
1. May Cause Depression:
It is common for chronic pain patients to suffer from depression. Similarly, it is also possible for people under depression to experience chronic pain. You could also say depression and chronic pain go hand in hand for the most part and so you need to stay alert.
Depression, much like CPS is a mental disease and is the result of negativity and clouded thoughts. When you experience recurring pain, your fear of pain takes over your thoughts and you feel helpless.
Soon you start to feel hopeless as your pain starts getting worse with time. This feeling of helplessness and hopelessness is exactly what a person under depression experiences.
2. Anxiety Attack:
Much like depression, chronic pain patients are more likely to experience an anxiety attack. They start fearing the pain even before they actually experience it. It is mainly due to their previous experience with pain that can leave them devastated.
The fear of pain can be so intense that they may hallucinate. The worst part of an anxiety attack, however, being the fact that it magnifies the severity of the pain.
You soon find yourself having difficulty sleeping as your fear of recurring pain haunts your nights so bad that you might end up sweating and trembling in the middle of the night.
You can learn more on Anxiety: A Human Emotion Not A Disease…anxiety meaning, symptoms, complications, risk factors, and anxiety management
Sleep loss is common in people with chronic pain. They find it difficult to fall asleep and may lay down in bed with no sleep at all for a long time before they actually fall asleep. Even if they manage to fall asleep, their sleep might get interrupted due to the onset of chronic pain and they cannot fall asleep again.
Lack of proper rest or sleep loss is one reason why people with recurring pain experience frequent mood swings. They get irritated easily and lose their temper every once in a while.
It is best that you do not engage in hot conversation with them. Else you might end up becoming their target and get struck by their lightening of frustration.
4. Weakness and Lack of Energy and Motivation:
It is common for chronic pain patients to feel weak and tired as they lack proper rest due to sleeplessness. Furthermore, they also lack the energy to face their daily challenges or get motivated to do anything at all.
It is quite often the case when people are sad or depressed and people with recurring pain have them both. They lose motivation more often than they are actually motivated. Their energy level always stays at the red zone and nothing works to recharge them.
5. A Feeling of Guilt:
People often are surrounded by a feeling of guilt whenever they cannot do something that they were assigned to do. They may also feel guilty whenever they need to depend upon others.
A person suffering from chronic pain is no different. He/she needs to depend upon others to survive and they find themselves helpless which is more of a reason why they feel guilty.
6. Suicidal Tendency:
A person develops suicidal mentality whenever they face overwhelming sadness and their desire to live fades away. They may lack the motivation to go on with their life anymore.
This holds true for people with recurring pain and thus they may develop suicidal tendencies. Some may take the next step and actually go ahead and try to suicide.
People with recurring pain are like broken clay dolls fixed with glue. They may look normal at first glance but if you observe them properly, you’ll see the cracks in them.
It is thus important to always look out for them even when you feel that there’s no need.
7. Problems in Marriage Life and Family:
It is common for people with some kinds of disabilities to face problems in marriage and family. And it goes without saying that a person suffering from chronic pain is no more able to function properly.
Failure to fulfill their duties as a son, a father, or a husband adds up to their failure in life. Their family starts treating them differently which should never happen. Their friends treat them like a helpless person and less of a friend.
This change in behavior form their family and friends pierces their heart like a needle thousand times. They may not say this but it is one thing that they despise the most.
Their self-respect takes a hit and get crushed under the pity-rock thrown to them everytime someone looks at them.
8. Loss of Interest in Sex:
It is no rocket science that one needs to be physically and mentally fit in order to show interest in things such as sex. People with chronic pain fear that they may experience pain more than pleasure which is why they eventually lose interest in sex.
9. Addiction to Drugs or Alcohol:
People often make bad decisions when they have a foul mood. As a result, they start substance abuse which may lead to addiction to drugs and alcohol in no time.
There’s this false belief about the use of drugs and alcohol healing one’s pain. Although prescribed drugs are used in treating pain, they are more refined and less harmful to the body.
But still, whenever people experience some sorts of pain, be it a pain from a breakup, or pain due to failure in life, people seek comfort by drinking and abusing drugs.
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 anytime. 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.
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.
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 the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. :
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
It is 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.