BY DAVID BUICE
Chronic pain is the type that lasts for a prolonged time — months or even years. It can happen anywhere in the body and can be present all the time, or it may come and go. Chronic pain can interfere with your daily activities, including working, your social life, or caring for others, and generally make your life uncomfortable.
Acute vs. Chronic Pain
Acute pain happens when something hurts you. Typically, it doesn’t last very long and tends to go away as the body heals itself. In contrast, chronic pain lasts long after recovery from illness or injury and sometimes occurs for no obvious reason.
Causes of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain sometimes has an obvious source, such as cancer or arthritis, which causes pain to last over an extended period. Additionally, an injury or disease can cause changes in your body that leave you more sensitive to pain.
Situations also occur where someone suffers chronic pain that has no obvious cause. Healthcare providers refer to this as psychogenic or psychosomatic pain, which can be caused by psychological factors like stress, anxiety, and depression. Some believe this type of chronic pain may also be caused by low levels of endorphins —the body’s natural chemicals that trigger positive feelings — in the bloodstream.
And, of course, it’s possible for sources of pain to overlap. You may have two different pain-causing diseases, or you might have something like migraine headaches and psychogenic pain together.
If you seek professional help in managing chronic pain, your health care provider will probably begin by asking a number of questions, such as the location of the pain, its severity on a scale of one to 10, how frequently it occurs, how the pain is affecting your life and work, what makes it better or worse and what injuries or surgeries you may have had.
Your healthcare provider may also order various tests to determine the cause(s) of the pain. These could include:
- Blood tests
- Electromyography to test muscle activity
- Imaging such as X-rays and an MRI
- Nerve conduction studies
- Reflex and balance tests
- Spinal fluid tests
- Urine tests
After completing a physical examination and securing test results, your healthcare provider may prescribe or recommend certain medications to relieve your pain. These may include:
- Anticonvulsants to relieve nerve pain
- Muscle relaxers
- Opioids, which can be addictive and should be used carefully
- Topical products containing pain relievers or that create soothing heat or cold
- Sedatives to relieve anxiety or insomnia
Non-traditional Therapies for Chronic Pain
These might include, to name a few:
- Biofeedback to influence heart rate, breathing, and muscle tension
- Pet therapy
- Mindfulness training, teaching you how to calm yourself
- Reiki or Healing Touch, with a therapist using touch to change your body’s energy fields
The bottom line is that if you suffer from chronic pain, you should see your healthcare provider or pain specialist, who will help you manage your pain and live a more comfortable, productive life.
Fighting Chronic Pain with Exercise
Engaging in regular exercise is one of the best ways to deal with chronic pain and promote your overall health. Gentle exercise can often provide pain relief, and if the thought of exercise puts you off, remember that anything that gets you moving counts as exercise.
Here are some suggestions to get you going.
Walking – Your regimen can begin with something as easy as walking to the end of your block or making a loop around the block and gradually building from there. Walking in a local park is also a good option, especially if it has benches where you can take a break.
To keep your effort going, you might enlist a friend to walk with you. Just don’t let your chatting slow you down to a mere amble. Keep up the pace!
Dancing or Moving to Music – Crank up some of your favorite tunes and dance or move while sitting down or do a combination of the two.
Gardening – For many, gardening is a favorite form of exercise and stress relief.
Exercise in a Pool – You don’t have to know how to swim to exercise in a pool that isn’t too deep. The buoyancy of the water makes you feel lighter and makes exercise easier than on land. Slow movements are best, and if you’re not a swimmer, have someone with you to provide help if needed.
These are just a few possibilities, but whatever your choice, always get your doctor’s approval before starting a regular exercise routine.