What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is defined as long-lasting, persistent pain.
Unlike acute pain, which usually occurs for 30 days or less, chronic pain can last six months or more. More generally, chronic pain is a form of pain that lasts longer than it should for a particular ailment or after an injury. But chronic pain isn’t only physical. It takes a mental, emotional, and social toll on those who suffer. Our team at The Pain Experts of Arizona is committed to helping you get back to pain-free living with treatments that address all of chronic pain symptoms. Learn more about chronic pain now or contact our team to set up your consultation.
Symptoms of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain symptoms go beyond the physical sensations. They can include things like:
- Loss of stamina and flexibility (from a decrease in activity)
- Reduced mobility
- Weight gain
- Sleep problems
You may have trouble focusing or lose your train of thought. You might feel sick or have unexplained pain that is unrelated to the cause of your chronic pain. Every person is unique, and your experience of chronic pain symptoms will be different from anyone else’s.
Chronic Pain Treatment Options
Chronic pain treatments are not just about pain relief.
There is an incredibly heavy mental toll that occurs when people are suffering from chronic pain. Depression and other mood disorders increase as pain persists, and the best treatments treat the whole patient—not just what hurts. These are eleven chronic pain treatments you might try. Which combination of chronic pain treatments works varies from person to person.
1. Lifestyle changes
A broad classification of pain treatments, lifestyle changes include things like diet, exercise, and habit management. If you suffer from painful chronic arthritis in the knees, for example, maintaining healthy body weight and staying active can go a long way to relieving your pain.
Plus, exercise has been proven to fight mood disorders and improve your quality of life. In fact, low levels of activity are linked to an increase in the chance of depression and anxiety. And when it comes to habits, smoking and drinking are two prime suspects that increase chronic pain. Quitting smoking today and lowering or eliminating alcohol consumption can go a long way towards helping your body heal.
2. Yoga and meditation
There are a variety of massages for chronic pain that relieve not only pain but also stress and anxiety. Massage is often used as a complementary treatment to help manage symptoms while you undergo other therapies.
The connection between the mind and body is becoming increasingly clear, and chronic pain is a total experience. How you treat the mental aspects of this condition is just as important as the physical. There are a variety of therapy options to choose from. Ask your doctor for professional referrals.
5. Physical therapy
Physical therapy consists of individualized exercises designed to prevent acute pain from becoming chronic. It can also be used to ease chronic pain, restore mobility, increase strength, and improve the overall quality of life.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medical practice that is gaining acceptance in Western medicine as research on its effectiveness grows. With this approach, individual acupuncture “pins” signal the brain to speed healing in the area being treated.
7. Over-the-counter medications
A simple regimen of ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, used as directed by your doctor, can help relieve pain and inflammation to give other treatments a chance to work.
8. Prescription medications
Prescription medications for chronic pain include approaches like muscle relaxers but also antidepressants and anticonvulsants. It is not well-known how antidepressants and anticonvulsants work to relieve chronic pain, but a significant number of people find relief with them. It is worth noting that there is significant research that shows that the risks of opioid medications for chronic pain are higher than the benefits, so we practice careful monitoring and prescribing of opioid medications at The Pain Experts of Arizona.
9. Electrical stimulation
Spinal cord stimulators and transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS) are minimally-invasive treatments that replace pain signals with a mild electrical current. These minimally-invasive approaches can go a long way towards reducing pain.
10. Pain injections
There are a number of injections to help manage pain. For example, an epidural steroid injection delivers an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medication directly to the affected nerves. For pain in the facet joints all along the spine, a medial branch block can help. The goal of these injections is to relieve pain in conjunction with other healing treatments (e.g., physical therapy).
Surgery for chronic pain is usually only indicated when there is a clear cause of pain that has not responded to more conservative treatments.
Chronic Pain Diagnosis/Tests
One of the most frustrating aspects of chronic pain is how challenging it can be to diagnose. Some patients suffer from psychogenic pain with no clear cause, but their pain is very real. Still, there is a procedure for diagnosis, and it starts with complete medical history. Your doctor will ask you to describe not only your general medical history but also the history of your pain: when it started, how it hurts, and its current characteristics. They will conduct a thorough physical exam and may order diagnostic tests to rule out serious causes of chronic pain. At The Pain Experts of Arizona chronic pain can be diagnosed using the following tests:
- Electrodiagnostic procedures
- Analysis of blood, urine, spinal, and brain fluid
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI
- Neurological exams
The goal is to get a big-picture look at what might be causing your pain, especially when there is no clear cause.
Types of Chronic Pain
There are a variety of chronic pain causes and presentations.
The most common types of chronic pain include:
- Arthritis pain
- Cancer pain
- Joint pain
- Back pain
- Neuropathic pain (pain caused by nerve damage)
- Postsurgical pain
- Post-trauma pain
Other types of widespread chronic pain such as fibromyalgia are challenging to classify. It’s important to note that even if your chronic pain does not fall neatly into one of the above categories, it is still a serious and life-altering condition that deserves treatment.
Causes of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain may or may not have a direct cause or a clearly defined starting point. Some people experience chronic pain for years before it interferes with their daily life. Others might dismiss what they see as minor aches and pains, not understanding that they don’t have to continue suffering.
What causes chronic pain varies. As we age, our hard-working joints and backs age right along with us. In some cases, osteoarthritis and other types of degenerative chronic pain begin to make daily life more challenging, causing us to seek treatment. Another common cause of chronic pain is an unhealed injury that continues to be irritated to the point of debilitation. This might be an old ankle sprain or hip injury. Examples of some chronic pain causes and their underlying conditions include:
- Anatomical abnormalities
- Repetitive stress injuries or postural issues
- Joint pain, including hip, knee, and shoulder pain
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Interstitial cystitis
- Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ)
There are many other causes of chronic pain. The one thing they have in common is that pain does not often simply disappear on its own. Chronic pain is complex, tied up in both physical mental factors. It’s important to seek treatment to improve your quality of life so you can get back to living pain-free.
More Facts About Chronic Pain
Chronic pain affects 20% (1.5 billion people) of the world’s population world and 100 million people in the USA.
Even with these numbers, pain-related research receives less than 1% of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget. Chronic pain also disproportionately affects BIPOC and women, a fact that researchers and doctors in the U.S. are recognizing and beginning to address.