The causes of chronic pain can be easily pinpointed for some. For others, however, the reason behind the pain can be much harder to nail down. Chronic pain is persistent and lasting. It can be a lifelong problem for some people, and finding the right treatment can be just as difficult. It can result from injuries, illness or for unknown reasons. Brain chemicals that are known to suppress pain may not be functioning correctly. An infection, injury, high heels or a bad mattress can lead to chronic pain. There are many other possible causes of chronic pain, such as:
- Nerve pain from damaged nerve fibers
- Compressed or “pinched” nerves resulting in tennis elbow and peripheral neuropathy
- Unresolved injury, such as sprains, strains and tears of muscles and joints
- Long-term illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia
- Degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis
- Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Other conditions including migraines, ear infections and carpal tunnel syndrome
- Vascular conditions such as vascular headaches
Chronic pain is usually diagnosed over time. A patient’s history of symptoms is usually taken into account. Underlying conditions may play a role, so patients are usually given diagnostic tests and physical and neurological examinations. Patients may need to see a myriad of doctors before finding an answer, and tests can include blood and urine samples, spinal tap and imaging tests (CT scan, MRI scan, bone scan).
Chronic Pain Definition
Pain signals sent from certain nerves to the brain result in pain. If they continue beyond recovery, lasting weeks, months, even years, this can be considered chronic pain. People who suffer over a long period of time without reprieve can have physical and psychological distress. They may become stressed, fatigued, depressed, withdrawn, angry, full of anxiety and they may feel completely helpless. They may explore a number of medications and/or therapies before finding something to ease the pain. This can include over-the-counter medications, prescription opiate painkillers, biofeedback, chiropractic, massage and acupuncture.
Tens of millions of people suffer this way. Chronic pain can be mild or excruciating, showing up in episodes or on a constant basis. For some people, this can be merely annoying. Other people can be completely sidelined and debilitated by their pain. Some people become desperate for relief, doing whatever they have to in order to ward off pain. Chronic pain is hard to escape from if there’s no relief. People who suffer from this pain may find that even everyday tasks are impossible. Symptoms of chronic pain can include aching, burning, stabbing, throbbing or electrical sensations. It can also include feelings of tightness, soreness, discomfort and stiffness. Pain can also lead to insomnia, changes in mood and disability.
The emotional toll of chronic pain can also compromise the immune system. The anxiety and stress can also cause the body’s natural painkillers to stop working correctly. According to WebMD, having these kids of negative feelings can increase the level of substances in the body that amplify pain sensations. This can exacerbate the problem, causing a vicious cycle of pain and suffering. Chronic pain can be so bad that it keeps you from working, which can have a huge impact on finances. This type of pain often leaves people in a perpetually negative state, which could lead to serious problems in their relationships with family, friends and coworkers.
There are many factors that can increase a person’s risk for developing chronic pain. Chronic pain is not considered to be a normal part of the aging process. However, older people are more apt to suffer from conditions associated with chronic pain such as diabetes, arthritis, shingles and neuropathy. Smoking can also interfere – lessening the effectiveness of medicine and increasing pain. Past health problems can also make chronic pain more likely in the future. People who have certain conditions may find that chronic pain develops down the road. These include depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, arthritis, shingles, amputation of a limb, joint injuries, previous surgeries and a weakened immune system. Lifestyle factors can also cause future problems with chronic pain. People who smoke, eat poorly or have issues with substance abuse or alcohol addiction can also develop unrelenting pain.
People with persistent pain should speak to a doctor if pain lasts more than three months without cause or if an injury or illness has been treated but pain continues. Those who are suffering from depression, insomnia or loss of interest in things they once enjoyed should also contact a doctor. The type of doctor a person with chronic pain needs to see can vary depending on the type and severity of pain. Specialists can include family medicine practitioners, internists, nurses, osteopathic physician, psychiatrist, physical therapist, neurologist, urologist, gynecologist, rheumatologist, chiropractor and orthopedic surgeon. Sometimes it takes more than one specialist to treat this complex disorder.
It can be quite challenging to treat chronic pain. Some cases of chronic pain are incurable but relief is possible with treatment. Doctors may advise patients to make diet and lifestyle changes such as exercise, an appropriate amount of sleep and following a healthy diet. He or she may also recommend using pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin. Antidepressants, corticosteroids and opiate analgesics may also be prescribed. In terms of prevention, people who do their best to live a healthy life may be better able to avoid chronic pain. Proper diet and sleep are important, and people should stay on top of their health with regular check ups. Stress prevention may also help, and early treatment of issues that do arise is essential.