Chronic Pain: Causes, Treatments, and Tips

Pain is a normal function of the human nervous system.  It is usually a reaction to something dangerous, such as a disease or injury, that your body wants to alert you to.  For example, feeling pain is what causes you to pull your hand off a hot stove, or to seek medical attention when you break a bone.  And, usually the body is good at regulating pain.  Some people who experience traumatic injury, such as a fatal wound, lose consciousness rather than feel the pain, or manage to block out the pain entirely.

For some people, however, the nervous system stops managing the pain well.  In some of these cases, long-term pain can start out of nowhere.  Or, it can stem from an old injury that has finished posing a threat, but the pain hasn’t stopped.  If the pain lasts more than 12 weeks, it is considered chronic pain.  And, it can be completely debilitating.  A person who suffers from chronic pain may be unable to engage in normal daily activities and have a significantly lowered quality of life.

History of Chronic Pain

In the past, doctors believed that all pain had some underlying injury or disease.  They thought that, therefore, the best way to treat the pain was to treat the underlying condition.  If a patient suffered from pain but there was no obvious cause, it was either a mystery case where nothing could be done, or the pain was considered to be just in the patient’s mind.  This may have caused the patient to be unsure of their own mental state, or even to develop psychological problems due to the chronic pain.  Now doctors understand that, in the case of chronic pain, the pain is not a result of a problem, but the problem itself.

How Is Chronic Pain Diagnosed?

It is usually not as easy to diagnose chronic pain as diagnosing a disease or an injury.  Because pain is subjective, doctors rely on descriptions from the patient to understand how bad the pain is or what the appropriate diagnosis might be.  This description is called the patient’s pain history.  The pain history can include thoughts that the patient experiences when confronted with pain, such as “It’s not a big deal,” versus “I could die from this pain.”  Even these personal experiences can assist a doctor when it comes to diagnosing chronic pain as the problem.

Treatments for Chronic Pain

Just as pain is subjective and personal to each patient, so are the appropriate treatments.  Doctors try to tailor each treatment to each patient’s pain history and lifestyle.  A popular choice for combatting chronic pain is prescription medication, because it is usually fairly convenient.  However, other treatments include therapy, such as relaxation therapies and behavior modification.  This is also a time when CAM treatments (Complementary or Alternative Medicine) shine, because it allows the patient to incorporate practices that they believe can be beneficial to managing their own pain.  Tai chi, meditation, massage therapy, and acupuncture may all help a patient suffering from chronic pain.  In fact, self-management techniques, in which the patient is actively involved in their own treatment plan, tend to be popular with chronic pain cases.  If you believe you are suffering from chronic pain, keep track of how you experience your pain and talk to your doctor.