Chronic Pain Information Page
The medical community defines pain as an unpleasant sense of discomfort that can be mild and treatable with over the counter medication, or severe and treatable only with prescription medication or medical intervention. Chronic pain persists over a long period and is often resistant to treatment or untreatable. Medical conditions such as arthritis, cancer, and sciatica can cause chronic pain, while chronic pain with no verifiable cause is a medical condition called fibromyalgia. Treatment options for chronic pain vary based on the cause and severity of the patient’s pain.
Chronic vs. Acute Pain
Acute pain is sudden and sharp, and can last anywhere from a moment up to six months. This form of pain always has an underlying cause, typically a broken bone, dental work, childbirth or surgery, and is relieved once the underlying cause is treated. If acute pain is not treated it can lead to chronic pain, which can last for years or a lifetime. Injury and infection can also cause chronic pain, and in some cases there is no known cause.
Fibromyalgia Quiz: A brief quiz to determine whether fibromyalgia is the cause of chronic pain.
WebMD: A look at the difference between chronic pain and acute pain.
Effects of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain can affect a person’s life in a multitude of ways. 58% of those suffering from chronic pain also experience depression and anxiety. The limit in physical activity and constant health concerns are often what causes this depression, which doctors treat through therapy and medication. Chronic pain also decreases the physical capacity of a person to work in certain jobs as well as limits one’s ability to pay attention due to the distraction of being in constant pain. In many cases, this lack of ability to work certain jobs or at all can hinder the earning potential of the patient, thus adding increased financial burden and stress.
EFIC: A look at the financial burden of chronic pain in Europe by the European Federation of IASP.
Department of Veterans Affairs: A look at how chronic pain can cause depression and post traumatic stress disorder.
Research and the Causes of Chronic Pain
There are two main causes for chronic pain. Sometimes after the body has experienced an injury, the nerves can continue to send a signal of pain to the brain despite the injury having healed. Chronic illnesses such as cancer can also cause long-term pain. However, in many cases patients can experience pain throughout their lifetime without any evidence of bodily injury or illness. Recently, researchers have found that patients suffering from chronic pain have low levels of endorphins in their spinal fluid. Current research regarding fibromyalgia indicates that a malfunctioning of the spinal cord causes this disorder, though researchers have yet to find the cause of the malfunction.
Fibromyalgia Network: Provides news on current research regarding this disorder.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Provides up to date information regarding current research into chronic pain, as well as links to open clinical trials.
University of Michigan: A webpage providing information on the University’s current research into chronic pain.
Brigham and Women's Hospital: Provides information concerning current trials on pain management medication.
Chronic Pain Management
While treating chronic pain can be challenging, there are a host of options available to patients. The most common is medication such as acetaminophen, nonsterodial anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioid-analgesics, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants. Doctors advise patients to exercise regularly and eat well, as well as seek therapy for any depression or anxiety issues. Continued chiropractic care as well as electro-acupuncture treatments can be helpful, and the application of hot or cold packs can often achieve temporary relief.
Exercise Aerobic exercise and flexibility exercises can reduce the severity of chronic pain.
Hot Pack Applying a hot compress for 15-20 minutes at a time can reduce the severity of chronic pain.
Pain Medication Taking doctor prescribed pain medications such as acetaminophen, NSAIDs, and narcotics can alleviate chronic pain.
Chiropractic Regularly receiving chiropractic care can treat mild chronic pain without the use of medication, or those suffering from more severe cases can use chiropractic care in conjunction with medication.
Occupational Therapy This type of treatment uses therapists to teach patients how to redirect their pain to lessen the effect it has on their daily life.
Physical Therapy Ongoing physical therapy, such as therapeutic massage, water aerobics, and specialized exercises lessen the severity of chronic pain and can also teach patients new ways to utilize their bodies to perform daily tasks.
Cryotherapy The application of an ice pack for up to thirty minutes can temporarily relieve chronic pain by reducing swelling and numbing the area.
TENS This medical procedure relies on electrical stimulation of the nerves to ease and treat chronic pain.
Psychotherapy Practitioners use supportive therapy and hypnotherapy to lessen the severity of chronic pain as well as treat the depression and anxiety often associated with it.
Acupuncture This treatment stimulates nerve endings through precise placement of small needles to alleviate chronic pain, especially migraines and neck pain.
Massage Therapy This treatment can loosen muscles and reduce stress in patients, which can lessen the severity of chronic pain.
Prolotherapy This treatment relies on the injection of sugar or salt water into the ligaments to increases inflammation, therefore sending the body’s immune system to the area so it can begin healing itself.
Structural Integration In this treatment, practitioners use deep tissue massage and manipulation to realign and restore the outer layer of the muscles, therefore strengthening the support system of the body and relieving unnecessary pressure that can cause chronic pain.