Around 100 million American residents live with chronic pain that strikes anywhere from their heads down to their toes. Pain signals that stay active in your nervous system from over six months to years can affect you physically and emotionally. Your symptoms can range from mild to excruciating, episodic to continuous, and inconvenient to debilitating. If you don’t manage chronic pain properly, it may become incapacitating and prevent you from completing daily activities. Pain-management experts explain many aspects of this condition so you can comprehend and control it better.
Distinguishing Acute from Chronic Pain
Normal acute pain warns your brain that your body has suffered an injury. Your brain relays the message to your body so it will disengage from the source of harm. Acute pain begins suddenly and subsides as the injury heals.
Chronic pain can linger indefinitely and become an ongoing disease. Symptoms include:
Persistent pain ranging from minor to severe
Shooting, aching, burning, or stinging pain
Discomfort, soreness, stiffness, or tightness
Pain doesn’t occur alone. You also may experience interrelated problems including:
Fatigue with an increased necessity to rest
Withdrawal from activities
Weaker immune system
Stress, mood swings, hopelessness, anxiety, irritability, anger, fear, and depression
The emotional toll of this chronic condition can exacerbate your pain. Negative feelings might elevate your levels of substances that magnify distressing sensations, causing a relentless pain cycle. Lethargy, stress, and moodiness may reduce your body’s natural painkiller production. This malady may compromise your body’s basic defenses. Considerable evidence shows that persistent pain can suppress your immune system.
Many factors can cause chronic pain. The gradual deterioration of your bones and joints that occurs with normal aging can trigger inflammation-induced pain. Common pain sources include headaches, backaches, and injuries. You can attribute some conditions like chronic back pain to lifestyle factors including poor posture, picking up heavy objects improperly, being overweight, and wearing high-heeled shoes.
You may also experience sinus pain, tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or pain that affects specific areas including your neck, shoulders, or pelvis. Generalized nerve and muscle pain also can become ongoing. Traumas, infections, and surgical procedures can lead to chronic pain. Underlying diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia can prolong pain. Or you may suffer from unremitting pain without past injuries or evidence of physical damage.
Three Pain Classes
Nociceptive pain: This type of pain arises upon sensing damage to your skin tissues through contact with anything that’s sharp, cold, or hot. Nociceptor nerves in your skin, joints, muscles, and internal organs detect pressures, stretching, and temperatures that involve surrounding tissues. Then these nerves transmit pain signals to your spinal cord and brain. Your body’s chemical changes trigger two main receptor types to fire.
Somatic pain receptors are located deep in your skin and tissues while your internal organs cause visceral pain. Chronic pain occurs whenever these receptors fire continuous signals to your spinal cord and brain after your affected body area has completed the healing process.
Inflammatory pain: Damage to any tissues like pulled muscles and broken bones causes inflammatory pain. A form of adaptive pain, it prevents your body from participating in physical movement and contact. This biological obstruction protects the wounded area, promoting a hasty recovery. If you continue to feel discomfort after the damaged tissue heals, chronic pain requires a revised treatment plan.
Pathological pain: Abnormal functionality or nervous system damage causes pathological pain. Instead of protecting your body, this type of pain is maladaptive. It can intensify your sensory signals, lowering your pain threshold. Damaged neurotransmitters misfire, triggering chronic pain.
Patients’ Perceptions and Responses Vary
Studies show that genetic differences influence how individuals feel pain. After the same surgical procedure, two patients may suffer from different postoperative pain levels. Genetic and non-genetic factors also interact to influence personal pain experiences. Researchers discovered that pain perception includes a whole brain response, so your emotions, thoughts, stressors, and hormonal changes can influence and intensify it easily.
When to Seek Treatment
Consult a doctor whenever your pain endures longer than typical without a specific reason. Also seek help if you can’t enjoy daily activities anymore, you’re experiencing sleeping difficulties, or you’re suffering from pain-induced depression.
Your doctor will make treatment recommendations based on your diagnosis. Because chronic pain can stem from both your body and mind, all remedies must address this condition’s physical and psychological aspects. Pain medication often is the first protocol. Buying over-the-counter (OTC)pain relievers online is the convenient and affordable way to feel better. Or your doctor may recommend a prescription pain medication. An anti-inflammatory corticosteroid like Prednisone, an anticonvulsant drug such as Neurontin (Gabapentin), or an antidepressant like Aventyl (Nortriptyline) may bring relief.
Common interventional procedures include nerve blocks, epidural injections, and nerve ablations that remove or destroy the nerves responsible for your pain signals. Physical therapy and chiropractic adjustments also might help alleviate some types of pain. Resting won’t reduce chronic back pain. Stay active instead to condition your back and keep it strong. Activities like stretching and yoga will improve your back alignment while relieving pain.