According to the CDC, just over 20% of Americans suffer with some form of chronic pain. This contributes to nationally inflated health care costs in addition to decreased productivity and quality of life. As such, finding ways to alleviate or manage pain for those who suffer is integral for mental, physical, and workplace health.
While proper pain management relies on the knowledge and cooperation between you and your treatment team, knowing the best options to treat chronic pain is a starting point for a predictive discussion. For this, we have compiled a breakdown of some common causes of chronic pain, their symptoms, and some of the leading treatments used to regain control of your life.
Importance of the Pain System
As a pain management clinic, most of the questions we receive are from clients looking to alleviate pain. However, it is important to not lose sight of why the pain system is in place to begin with.
Our system developed pain to alert us of potential problems within our bodies. These can be related to injuries, underlying health problems, or even the natural course of aging. Unfortunately, for older adults and individuals with a less-than-ideal health history, pain can be an early warning sign of underlying problems.
As such, it is important to speak with a medical professional whenever acute pain turns chronic, or you experience pain that is abnormal and unfamiliar to you.
Types of Chronic Pain
Any pain that persists over a 12 week period, whether it is from a simple headache or from nerve damage, can technically be considered chronic. As such the term “chronic pain” is rather broad and encompasses a wide range of chronic pain types, causes, and levels of severity.
Some types of chronic pain can be caused by infections, weight, repetitive use, and even poor posture. Other types are often more pervasive and much more severe. It is those which fall into the later category we will discuss below.
Musculoskeletal Pain is felt when muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones are injured or deteriorate over time. Pain of this type is most commonly acute, but can become chronic if not properly healed or treated. Furthermore, when muscles are not digen the appropriate time to recover, they risk becoming easier to injure in the future.
For older individuals, this type of pain can be felt through illness of age, such as rheumatoid arthritis, deterioration of cartilage in the spinal cord, and conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
Musculoskeletal pain signals are unique and can include symptoms such as the following:
- Pain that is sharp and worsens with certain movements
- Pain spread over an entire muscle region
- Pain resulting in a cramped, pulling, or burning sensation
- Pain which also results in fatigue
If you have recently suffered an injury recently and the pain you feel coincides with that location, you are most likely experiencing a musculoskeletal problem.
Depending on the origin of the pain, treatment modalities will differ significantly.
For persistent pain that is the result of an injury, physical therapy, occupational therapy, massage, splints, and acupuncture are some of a variety of methods used to alleviate pain. In these cases, the main goal is to stop doing the movement that aggravates the pain. Give the muscle time to heal, then train it back to its former state of health. This type of restrengthening can also help you build other muscles that support your entire system and help prevent future injury.
For individuals suffering from an underlying health condition, there are a variety of anesthetic and analgesic shots that can be used to ease pain in addition to prescription medications. This can sometimes include the use of an antidepressant or anticonvulsant, both of which show promising results for medically treating pain without the use of an opioid.
Unlike musculoskeletal pain which usually results after an injury, neuropathic pain is either from damage or from a malfunction within the nervous system. While the most common cause of neuropathy are the pins-and-needles sensations found in diabetes, there are many other factors that cause this discomfort such as:
- Nerve damage from trauma or surgery
- HIV and AIDS
- Spinal compression or inflammation
- Radiation therapy
- Chemotherapy Disorders of the central nervous system such as stroke, parkinsons, and MS
Unlike musculoskeletal pain that can often be traced to a point of injury, neuropathic pain includes a more widely varied symptomatic range, even in individuals that have no history of injury or trouble functioning. These symptoms are thus widely different across cases and vary with equal degree to their severity. A few common pain types however include the following:
- Numbness and tingling
- Sharp, shock-like pains
- Sensitization to stimuli that is normally not painful (such as cold water)
- Lessened pain to normally painful events (hypoalgesia)
- Pain related sleep disturbances
- Decreased mobility
Because neuropathic pain is often the result of an underlying condition affecting the nerves, treating said condition is often more effective than trying to mask the pain in another way.
Most often, this includes a combination of prescription treatments and therapies for the underlying condition.
For managing the pain in the times before the underlying condition is controlled, there are several prescription, over the counter, and holistic options. Nerve soothing medications such as anticonvulsants or nerve blocks are commonly used on more severe pain, whereas pain that is of a lesser degree can benefit from over the counter pain relievers such as Advil and other NSAIDs and topical medications such as Lidocaine. Used in conjunction, these treatments are often effective at helping the patient regain normal functioning.
While the above two types of pain are the most common among ageing and injured populations, there are other causes of chronic pain that get less attention but are still prevalent within society.
One severely under-discussed form of pain is that created by various types of mental illness such as anxiety and depression.
As the human body experiences mental trauma and repressed emotions, many individuals experience a somatization of these challenges— a manifestation of emotional pain in some other area of the body. This is your system wake-up call that it might be time to seek professional help with depression or stress management. Should you seek the help of a therapist, it will allow for further insight into whether the pain initially caused emotional dysregulation, or, if emotional dysregulation caused the pain.
During the course of therapy, medication, or a combination of the two, individuals learn the deeper underlying causes of their pain and find ways to solve their aches from the mind down. This creates a greater quality of life in all areas.
Similarly, sometimes pain is caused due to underlying illness such as cancer and any related treatments. Pain management specialists must take added care when assessing and managing cancer patients as it is imperative that they understand whether the pain is a sign of worsening illness or whether it is a sign of medication side effects. Taken together, these inform the treatment team how to best move forward to help with alleviating the pain in the way which will help the problem at its original source.
Contacting a Pain Management Expert
No matter what option you choose, long term pain and long term medication consumption have their own adverse side effects and impact on your physical and mental health. Finding the right pain relief is important, but it’s a decision that must be made with the care and cooperation between you, your doctor, and other individuals that may become part of your treatment team.
The Arizona Pain and Spine Institute boasts a full team of seasoned professionals who specialize in minimally invasive and clinically proven modalities to help manage both long and short-term pain. We make a point to stay on the cutting edge of new technologies to help reduce pain and increase quality of life.