Chronic Pain

Chronic pain affects approximately 11% of adults in the United States.  Chronic pain lasts over a long period of time and occurs when the pain signals in your body are not working correctly.  This can be caused by a number of different issues and circumstances.  

Causes of Chronic Pain

Back pain symptoms vary, depending on what’s causing it. However, the common signs and symptoms of back pain include the following:

  • Injury such as back strain or pulled muscle
  • Work related injury or car accident
  • Medical condition such as arthritis, lupus, shingles, cancer, ulcers and multiple sclerosis
  • Nerve damage
  • Congenital condition
  • Aging
  • Unknown cause

Because there is such a wide array of causes, it can be challenging to pinpoint the source of chronic pain.  There can also be multiple causes of chronic pain acting in conjunction with one another.  While initial chronic pain may be caused by arthritis, additional nerve and joint damage could also cause prolonged pain.  Aging may be another contributing factor, as we age our bodies become more susceptible to injury and pain.

Symptoms

The symptoms of chronic pain are also wide ranging.  Chronic pain is generally characterized as pain that does not go away after three months or more and can include dull aching, burning, stinging sensation, stiffness and / or throbbing.  Chronic pain is often accompanied by other symptoms as well such as fatigue, depression, insomnia, lethargy and overall weakness.  

People that suffer from chronic pain may find other areas of their life impacted.  Some may find that they fall into depression in part due to the challenges of dealing with their pain.  Pain can make it difficult to sleep, leaving the sufferer exhausted and frustrated.  Chronic pain may also make it difficult to complete ordinary tasks or participate in activities, leaving a person to feel lonely and isolated.  Negative attitudes may create an unhealthy cycle where the pain creates negative feelings and the negative feelings may actually increase the intensity and duration of pain.  To avoid this cycle, it is important that a person with chronic pain has a strong support system around him or her and maintains a positive attitude.  

Diagnosis

You may need to visit with your medical professional several times to obtain a diagnosis.  There are numerous tactics and tools your medical team may use to locate the source of your pain. 

Self Evaluation and History

You are the best judge of your pain tolerance, level and experience.  Your medical team will ask you to rate your pain on a scale and describe the location and intensity.  You can help by evaluating your pain when you experience it and keeping a detailed record of what you are feeling.  Your patient history and any previous medical experiences or injuries also need to be disclosed so that your physician can trace any potential causes.

A Thorough Physical Exam

Your team will perform a thorough range of tests to analyze your physical health.  Joints, nerves, range of motion, and posture will all be tested.  These items may give key insights into your pain and its cause.

A Psychological Exam

Your mental, emotional and physical well-being are all intertwined.  It is important for your medical team to understand your current mental health and how that may be impacting your physical health and vice versa.

Blood work

Blood work can be used to find underlying medical issues that could be the source or a contributing factor to your pain.  It can be helpful in finding some disorders such as lupus, various types of arthritis, or an infection.

Imaging

X-rays, MRI’s and EMG testing may all be utilized to review the condition of bone, tissue and joints.

Selfcare

While chronic pain is a physical condition, it can also negatively impact your mental and emotional health.  Many people with chronic pain find themselves feeling frustrated and alone and this can in turn make the pain symptoms worse.  It is important to prioritize self-care.  Following these steps may help you feel empowered and give you a more positive outlook on your symptoms, condition and life in general.  

  • Limit smoking and alcohol intake
  • Prioritize sleep and do what you can to get enough sleep at night
  • Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation
  • Join a support group
  • Track your pain and daily activities
  • Find things that you enjoy and make them a priority as you are able

Pain Management

There are many different medications available to help manage pain depending on the type and severity the patient is experiencing.  NSAID’s, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, muscle relaxers, NSAID’s and narcotics may be used under the supervision and care of a physician to help a patient alleviate his or her pain.   
Injections, nerve blocks and surgery are all also possible treatment options.  These treatments may be localized and greatly depend on the area of pain and diagnosis.
As a person suffering from chronic pain, you don’t have to suffer alone.  Working in conjunction with your medical professional to create a custom treatment plan, you can get your chronic pain under control