Chronic pain (or persistent pain) is pain that carries on for longer than 12 weeks, despite medication or treatment.
You’ve probably heard of people who walk off the mountains, or out of the wilderness having endured a life-threatening accident.
Or you’ve heard stories about people with severe injuries themselves who have managed to perform herculean tasks to rescue others in a state of emergency.
Somehow they managed to conquer their immediate pain.
But at the same time, for too many people, just getting out of bed in the morning, or lifting your child for a hug at the end of the school day also requires a herculean effort.
That’s because pain means different things to different people, in different contexts, and based on different experiences.
Acute, short-lived pain following a traumatic injury, in many cases heals.
The pain that becomes increasingly hard to live with and manage, is the pain that has persisted month after month, and often year after year.
Some adults say they have lived with pain their entire lives from teenage years, whereas others develop this persistent or chronic pain later in life, sometimes for reasons that can’t be diagnosed.
As medical professionals we generally like the science to be black and white, with definitions, classifications and clear boundaries that allow us to accurately diagnose our patients.
Knowing this we can then follow a step-wise management or treatment protocol that we can have confidence will work.
Unfortunately this is rarely the case with chronic pain
People suffering from chronic pain may have no history of significant injury or disease.
Living with chronic pain is almost a disease in itself.
It slowly and progressively eats away at you, your confidence, self- worth, and independence.
It can consume your life and thoughts, often alienating you from your friends and family even your workplace.
Living with pain is exhausting; lack of sleep, anxiety and depression often go hand in hand with pain. This can lead to anger and frustration and problems with your relationships at home and with yourself.
The physical pain can stop you from doing things you love, like taking walks, playing sports and socialising.
It can even stop you from doing the things you don’t love, like housework, cooking and chores. But the effect of not being able to physically do things can have two consequences.
Firstly, it’s not good for your joints and muscles, your fitness, weight or cardiovascular health.
Secondly, losing your ability to be active can lead to more emotional problems of dependence, defeat, and feeling ‘useless.’
Everyone has their own story to tell about pain
It may be a mother unable to lift her child when its hurt or crying, or having been the breadwinner in the home who is now unemployed worrying about bills, and supporting your family.
The sense of loss can be overwhelming, loss of the life you imagined, the things you planned to do, and a disconnect from others who are seemingly going about life ‘as normal’.
So what? You know all of this, you may be living it daily and you may have tried a bunch of things already.
The reality is there is no quick fix to chronic pain, nor is it as simple as an on/off switch.
Chronic pain is more like a dimmer switch, there are things that turn it up, but there are also things you can do to reduce the pain to a gentle glow. Not one specific thing will work, and what works for your friend doesn’t mean it will work for you.
Firstly, lets dispel some myths about chronic pain…
- If you cannot find the exact source of the pain then it must be in your head
- Chronic pain isn’t that bad, you get used to it after a while
- You should expect that one day your pain will be completely cured
- You went out yesterday so your pain can’t be that bad
- Chronic pain treatment should be effective within a short period of time
- You must be weak, a low pain threshold
- If you look healthy you cannot be in pain
- If you have failed to control your pain in the past you will fail in the future
- Chronic pain is the only reason for all the problems you have
- Just push through it, no pain, no gain
- Your pain will improve if you remain inactive, and avoid physical activity
- People with chronic pain are just lazy and looking for attention
- You must have complete control over everything in your life
- To consider yourself worthwhile you must be able to function in the same way you did before the pain
- If pain can be reduced through stress management techniques then it must be imaginary pain
If you agreed with any of these statements with regards to chronic pain then you are WRONG!
Contact one of the team
- Short-term pain is called Acute Pain. An example is a sprained ankle.
- Long-term is called Persistent or Chronic Pain. Back trouble or arthritis are examples.
- Pain that comes and goes is called Recurrent/ Intermittent Pain. Toothache could be one.
- Find out more from the British Pain Society.
This article was originally published in the Town & County magazine for County Durham. Download The Strain of Pain – Part 1 in PDF format.