Everybody’s had experience with pain. It could be emotional,physical, or a combination of both. It could be unexpected, sharp, dull, nearly debilitating, or somewhere in between. Pain can come and go, often resolving on its own without you doing anything at all. But sometimes, the pain lingers seemingly without end and slowly erodes your quality of life – and nothing makes it go away.
When is Pain Considered Chronic?
If you’ve experienced anything that sounds like what you just read, then you may have something called chronic pain. According to the experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine, chronic pain is lengthy pain that lingers past the normal recovery time or is paired with a chronic health condition like arthritis. It may even be a constant fixture in your life, forcing you to take shortcuts, but still affecting most facets of daily life that others take for granted. In short, chronic pain may rob you of your ability to enjoy life.
Deciding what’s considered chronic pain is subjective. If you have long-term pain that’s lasted more than three months, then it’s probably chronic and you won’t be considered a hypochondriac if you were to make such an assertion. But your opinion could be influenced by your symptoms.
For someone with chronic pain, it’s not unusual to have discomfort that could be described as aching, burning, shooting, squeezing, stiffness, stinging, or throbbing. Other common side effects include problems concentrating, poor sleep, and low energy levels.
Common types of chronic pain:
- Neuropathic pain: diabetes or HIV, postherpetic neuralgia, trigeminal neuralgia, central post-stroke pain, spinal injury, and neuropathic low back pain.
- Mixed pain: migraine and chronic daily headaches, fibromyalgia, phantom limb pain, complex regional pain syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and skeletal muscle pain.
- Nociceptive pain: mechanical low back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, chronic inflammatory conditions, postoperative pain, sports and exercise injury, and many others.
Knowing Chronic Pain – Beyond The Symptoms
But what else should you know about chronic pain? There are two crucial factors to consider. The first: chronic pain rarely has an identifiable cause. The second: chronic pain, in most cases, can’t be cured – unless it’s caused by an illness or other condition which can be diagnosed with certainty. But you shouldn’t be overly worried about either of those because there are many kinds of ways to manage the pain symptoms and allow you to live a normal and productive life.
The Cost of Chronic Pain
As someone with chronic pain, you may be aware of the cost – but are you, really? The experts at Michigan Medicine have clarified facts about chronic pain that may not only be informative, but also help you decide on treatment options:
- The most common types of chronic pain are facial (4%), headache or migraine (15%), neck pain (15%), and back pain (27%).
- More than 100 million U.S. adults say they have chronic pain, more than cancer, diabetes, and heart disease combined.
- More than 76 million people report chronic pain lasting continually for more than 24 hours.
- Chronic pain causes 36 million people to miss work every year.
- 75% of patients with chronic pain report being depressed.
- The combined expense of treatment and lost productivity due to chronic pain is a whopping $635 billion a year.
- Up to 8 million people treat chronic pain symptoms with opioids.
- 57% of adults with chronic pain said they would pay $1 a week extra to increase federal support for chronic pain research.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Diagnosing and treating chronic pain is a challenge. As a patient talking to a healthcare provider, it can be hard to accurately describe what you’re feeling, the severity of the pain, possible triggers, and whether you’ve experienced similar discomfort before. The process is just as hard for your clinician, but all this information is critical to a medical professional understanding what’s going on and offering potential treatment options.
You can expect to undergo a thorough physical exam where a healthcare provider will ask questions about your pain and have you rate it, as well as document personal and family medical history. Certain tests like x-rays and other procedures may uncover a potential source for your pain and help in finding ways to treat it effectively. At some point, however, you may be referred to a mental health specialist if there’s a suspicion your chronic pain has a psychological component.
Treatment could involve physical or occupational therapy, store-bought or prescription pain medicine, medicine to treat symptoms of mental illness, self-help strategies, or even ketamine therapy to reduce your chronic pain symptoms.