How do we explain something to someone that they cannot see, feel, or touch? It can make it very difficult to believe, understand, or feel compassion for. However, for many, chronic pain is a daily struggle on the inside while we may look fine on the outside. September is Pain Awareness Month and rightfully so–over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. And it comes with a heavy price tag estimated as high as $635 billion a year for medical care and lost productivity. This is more than the yearly costs for cancer, heart disease and diabetes. And there is no price tag that can be placed on the suffering and loss of happiness that it causes.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know About Chronic Pain:
What Is Chronic Pain? The International Association for the Study of Pain defines it as “ongoing or recurrent pain, lasting beyond the usual course of acute illness or injury or more than 3 to 6 months, and which adversely affects the individual’s well-being.” In other words, it continues when it should not. We typically see chronic pain stemming from the back, neck, headaches, cancer, and joints, but it can exist anywhere we can think of on our bodies and can range from mild to severe.
What Causes Pain? After we step on a nail or jam our toe, a nerve near the injury sends a signal to the brain via the spinal cord, creating the sensation of pain. Mother Nature did not design this willy-nilly; the sensation of pain is meant to protect us from harm. The brain instantly (and reflexively) sends back a “warning” signal to our foot to “retreat” in order to prevent further injury. In the case of chronic pain, the signal keeps firing and the feeling of pain continues.
What are the effects of chronic pain? Anyone who has experienced a paper cut knows it hurts really, Really, REALLY bad. Imagine if this excruciating pain lasted for weeks, months, or years. For some, it does. It is easy to see how it can prevent good sleep, the ability to concentrate, and cause depression. Studies have also shown that chronic pain can hinder our body’s ability to fight off infections. The effects of chronic pain may also “spill over” and create stress and tension with co-workers and family members.
Avoid the “Do-It-Yourself” Conundrum For the occasional ache or pain, over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, work effectively and quickly with minimal side effects. However, they are not intended for long-term use or to be taken in higher than recommended doses. If we find ourselves needing more than one week of treatment in a row, it may be time to enlist our doctor to help navigate through the problem and avoid side effects.
Chronicling Pain is subjective; only the person experiencing it can describe it properly. That is why keeping a journal can help our doctor establish an accurate diagnosis and create a successful treatment plan. Use a scale from 1-10 to rate our pain (with 10 being the worst pain). Additionally, describe where the pain is, what it feels like (aching, burning, sharp), what makes it worse or better, and how it may be limiting our activities in order to provide valuable information to our doctor.
Get Help Making an appointment to consult with our doctor is half the battle. It puts us on the road to increasing our function, improving our quality of life, and reducing our sense of suffering. In some cases they may refer us to a pain management specialist that can tailor and monitor a multi-modal treatment plan. After all, we are uniquely different and what worked for our friends may not work for us.
Chronic pain can be debilitating. It can also be exhausting, cause sleep disturbances, make it difficult to concentrate, affect self-esteem, disable, and cause isolation. Yet one too many people suffer in silence, from stigma, or inadequate relief. Let’s not only get back on the road to address chronic pain head on, let’s jump into the driver’s seat and steer. Stay tuned in for next week’s column to discuss specific treatments for chronic pain.
Notice: This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither Dr. Nina Radcliff or Kimberly Cecchini take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.
Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies. Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness.