Chronic pain is a complex and potentially debilitating condition that can affect every part of the human body. Chronic pain can be described as pain that lasts for 6 months or longer, and as that which extends beyond what would be considered a normal healing time.
What Is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is usually described as any type of pain that lasts longer than three months. Pain tells us something is wrong, but chronic pain is pain that has outlived its usefulness. It can be associated with several afflictions, including the following:
- Central nervous system sensitivity
- Neck and back disorders
- Oro-facial pain
- Amputated limbs
- Musculoskeletal and rheumatic conditions, including fibromyalgia
- Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)
- Opiate hyperalgesia
- Learning to Manage Chronic Pain
At Sierra Tucson, chronic pain treatment is integrated to foster self-awareness and teach effective self-care. Two of the most important components of the residential treatment center’s Pain Management Program are education on chronic pain, which gives patients a better understanding of how to manage it, and movement therapies. For patients to heal they must exercise and build strength in a safe manner, even if in small increments.
“The first key for people to get better is to have an understanding of the pain process and how pain works,” Parrish said.
86 Million Adults in America with Pain
Chronic pain affects an estimated 86 million adults in America. While everyone experiences pain at some point, and to some degree, chronic pain persists, and its sufferers face reduced productivity at work, less energy at home, and a depleted sense of health and well-being brought on by prolonged periods of intense discomfort.
Two Basic Types of Pain
Acute Pain – Pain that typically comes on suddenly, often as the result of an accident, illness, surgery or trauma, and is limited to a finite period of time and degree of severity.
Chronic Pain – Pain that persists over a longer period of time or extends beyond the expected or average period of healing.
Causes of Chronic Pain
The causes of chronic pain can be made up of a single factor, or a combination of factors. The following are some possible causes of chronic pain:
- Nerve damage
- Improperly healed injuries
- Being overweight
- Congenital conditions
- Degenerative diseases such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis
The exact cause of chronic pain is not always known or understood. In some cases, pain can take on both physical and psychological dimensions, making the root of the pain difficult to diagnose and treat.
Symptoms of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain manifests itself in many forms, ranging from mild to incapacitating and episodic to continuous. Pain can take the form of aching or soreness, or as a shooting or burning sensation.
Because every patient’s experience of pain is unique, a definitive list of chronic pain symptoms is difficult to produce. However, the following are among the most common chronic pain complaints:
- Back pain
- Sinus pain
- Joint pain
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Cancer pain
- Sleep disturbances/insomnia
Prolonged periods of experiencing chronic pain can greatly impact an individual’s mind, body and spirit. Chronic pain sufferers often struggle with mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, or panic as well as increased stress and fatigue. These issues can change the way the body perceives pain and fights illness and can actually decrease the amount of natural painkiller produced by the body.
Both the physical and psychological aspects of chronic pain need to be addressed in the treatment of the disorder.
The Four Components of Chronic Pain
The four components of your pain experience are:
- The physical sensation
- Automatic thoughts
- Uncomfortable emotional reactions
- Self-defeating behaviors that often result from the thinking and feelings
Studies show that as pain lingers on and becomes chronic, a patient’s mood and motivations are affected (Walker, Holloway & Sofaer, 1999; Jensen, Turner, Romano & Karoly, 1991). As patients learn to separate the physical sensations from their psycho-emotional responses, stress levels associated with the pain symptoms are reduced.
Understanding the Pain
For many patients, understanding their pain means realizing how much their pain is impacted by their emotions. When people are feeling anxious or angry, their pain is likely to increase. That is why much of the treatment available at Sierra Tucson focuses on treating the body, mind and spirit.
Treatment Options for Chronic Pain
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