Characteristics of Chronic Pain
December 7th, 2017
Chronic pain can often be hard to identify and even harder to talk about. Many who suffer from chronic pain often don’t speak with their healthcare professionals about it because they’re afraid they’re making it up. However, 11% of Americans suffer from chronic pain while 15% report suffering from “severe pain.”1 I’m going to walk you through how to identify your chronic pain and what can be done about it.
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain can often be defined as pain lasting for 3 months or more.2 Most chronic pain stems from an injury or condition to the body but the pain doesn't stop once the body is healed. It can originate along the spinal cord and is one of the trickier conditions to treat. Some of the most common causes of chronic pain are:
- Past injuries, including surgeries
- Nerve damage
While chronic pain can be hard to identify and describe, it is a very real pain that can affect not only your physical health, but your mental health as well. It is not strictly terminal, but it does significantly decrease quality of life and can have life-threatening effects by increasing blood pressure, thereby putting patients at risk for heart disease.3
Characteristics of Chronic Pain
The main identifier of chronic pain is the length of time you feel pain. If you have an injury or condition and your pain lasts longer than you think it should, this should be seen as one of the key characteristics of chronic pain and taken seriously. Pain in your body can come in all different forms. You may feel a dull, sore ache or shooting pains. It may feel like throbbing or squeezing, but other chronic pain can manifest as a sharp burning or stinging feeling.
Chronic pain can come in the form of stiffness, especially because when you’re in pain and less likely to move the pained area. This is a common symptom for sufferers of arthritis, but can be one of the characteristics of chronic pain from an injury or surgery as well.
Another important thing to remember is that chronic pain isn’t always consistent pain - it can come and go and can range from mild to severe. It’s also affects your life in more ways than the physical. Many chronic pain patients experience debilitating emotional symptoms like depression and anxiety, low energy because of their pain and worry over letting the day slip away or being controlled by their pain. Mood changes and loss of appetite are not uncommon.4
What Can I Do To Help My Chronic Pain?
Another alternative to traditional addictive pain medication is taking supplements. Often, chronic pain comes with identifiable symptoms such as inflammation. Supplements that include fish oil can help to reduce inflammation and related pain.5
There are a number of medication options when it comes to chronic pain treatment.6 Some are what you might expect: NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can relieve mild aches and pain, as well as relieve certain symptoms like fever. These are often over-the-counter medicines like aspirin, though a few NSAIDs are prescription drugs. They’re generally deemed safe, but in some cases can cause allergic reactions, internal bleeding, or even increase risk of heart failure.7 For safety’s sake, you should only take the minimum dosage of NSAIDs.8 They also typically don’t do much for more intense pain.
Opioids can be used to treat more severe pain. These are morphine-like substances and generally held to be stronger pain relief. When taking opioids, it’s important to follow your dosage exactly, as opioids more than most pain relief medication can lead to addiction or overdose. There are also recent studies that show that opioids don’t have a much stronger effect on pain symptoms than other pain relief medications.9
Using antidepressants to treat chronic pain might seem unconventional, but because depression often goes hand-in-hand with chronic pain, antidepressants are commonly prescribed. Always ask your doctor before deciding to take any medication to treat your chronic pain symptoms and make sure you do your research about the risks involved with each.
The absolute best thing you can do for your chronic pain is to speak with your healthcare provider. They will do an evaluation, identify the source of your pain, listen to your symptoms and create a healthcare plan tailored just for you and your pain.
1 The Stress Of Severe Pain: 11% Of Americans Suffer From Chronic Pain, NIH States - MedicalDaily
2 What is Chronic Pain and What are the Symptoms? - WebMD
3 Chronic Pain: Living with Chronic Pain - Cleveland Clinic
4 Pain Management: Chronic Pain and Depression - WebMD
5 Fish Oil Fights Chronic Pain - Holistic Pain
6 Treatments - American Chronic Pain Association
7 5 Dangers of NSAIDs, NSAID Benefits, & Better Alternatives - Dr. Axe
8 Using NSAIDs Safely & Effectively - American Chronic Pain Association
9 For All Their Risks, Opioids Had No Pain-Relieving Advantage In Yearlong Clinical Trial - Los Angeles Times