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Pain can be caused by a number of things; from an injury, a disease, or a strain on the body. Sometimes pain may continue long after the original cause has gone away. Sometimes, persistent pain may occur for no obvious reason.
100 million Americans suffer from some form of chronic pain. That’s more people than cancer, heart disease, and diabetes put together. Many more suffer from pain caused by acute or health problems such as cancer, arthritis, or lower back strain.
Pain management is a medical specialty devoted to diagnosing and treating serious pain. Pain management is a multidisciplinary specialty, meaning that pain management specialists use knowledge from other branches of medicine, including:
Pain is different for every individual. Most of the time, pain is caused when an illness, injury, or some strain on your body causes your nerves to send a signal to your brain, causing the unpleasant sensation we call pain. Usually, pain helps us by warning us something is wrong. But sometimes pain can cause suffering that is out of proportion to the problem that caused it. Pain may continue long after the disease or injury has been treated, or you may feel pain that seems to have no cause.
Pain that seems to happen for no reason or continues long after it should have ended is called chronic pain. Usually, chronic pain occurs when your nervous system just can’t stop sending pain signals because of something that happened in the past. This type of chronic pain may cause you to suffer for months or even years unless it is treated. Chronic pain may also be caused by damage to your nerves, caused by diabetes or some other condition. This is known as neuropathic pain.
Typical causes of long-term, or chronic pain include:
Causes of short-term, or acute pain include:
There are things that can increase your risk for chronic pain. You can’t control all of these risk factors, but being aware of them may help you understand your condition.
Physical risk factors for chronic pain include:
Psychological risk factors for chronic pain include:
You may also have risk factors based on things that occur in your day-to-day life, such as:
Pain can be a symptom of many different illnesses. Sometimes it’s easy to tell what’s wrong, but other times the cause may be harder to find. Diagnosing complex or chronic pain may require a team of health care professionals, possibly including:
Your diagnosis may involve a complete physical and psychological assessment, as well as tests. Tests used in pain assessment include
Some chronic pain disorders do not have tests, and can only be diagnosed by ruling other conditions out based on your medical history and your physical exam.
In most cases, pain is a symptom of a disease or injury, but in others, pain itself is the disorder. Your problem may be a chronic pain disorder if:
Some types of pain can be easily recognized and treated. Others are chronic problems that need lifelong management. Often, chronic pain can be managed. Because of ongoing scientific research, many doctors believe pain disorders that are problematic now may be easier to control in years to come.
Sometimes the effects of pain can be more severe than the injury or illness that caused it. What’s more, many people with chronic pain have to cope with
For many people, chronic pain impacts quality of life and makes it hard to concentrate, to sleep, or to get stuff done at work and in day-to-day life. Chronic pain can also lead to depression. According to one study, more than four out of five people with chronic pain also felt depressed. So what can you do to help yourself manage when you suffer from chronic pain? Start by asking for help when you need it.
If you need help, talk to your doctor. If you feel depressed, or like it’s too much to bear, tell your doctor or talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist. If you find yourself thinking about suicide, talk to a doctor right away. If your doctor isn’t available, visit the emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends and family in your day-to-day life. Overextending yourself can lead to stress and trigger pain flare-ups. So don’t be afraid to call on friends or family for help. Sometimes you may need to delegate a task or put it off until later, and that’s OK.
Think of your energy as a limited resource, and budget what you have. Sometimes people compare this to pennies, or spoons. Assess what you have to do today, and if it takes more “spoons” than you think you have, figure out what you can skip or give someone else to do. And always try to keep one spoon in reserve, to help you cope with things you didn’t expect.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you just need someone to talk to.
Above all, remember to accept your limits and focus on the positive. Don’t dwell on the things you can’t do, but remember the things you can, and find ways to get the most out of life. You can’t always control your pain, but you can control your life and your happiness.
If you suffer from pain on a day-to-day basis, there are questionnaires and screening tools that your doctor can use to assess the severity of your pain, ranging from a one-question scale with pictures of facial expressions to more complex questionnaires suing 10 or more questions.
Pain disorders can’t always be prevented, but there are things you can do to reduce your risk of chronic pain or, if you have a chronic pain disorder, to make flare-ups happen less often.
To help prevent a chronic pain disorder:
If you already suffer from chronic pain, things you can do to prevent relapses include
Effective pain management often involves not just one treatment but a combination of different approaches.
These are some of the medicines used to treat pain:
In addition to medicine, your chronic pain treatment may also include other approaches, such as:
In pain management, alternative and complementary treatments are included in the approach used by many doctors and hospitals. Some of the alternative treatments endorsed by doctors include:
Other complementary pain treatments are being examined in scientific studies. These include:
Some people also use herbal treatments for pain relief, although these treatments are not thoroughly tested and may have side effects. Herbal pain treatments include:
Always tell your doctor about any treatments you take, including herbal or alternative treatments, as they may have side effects or interact with other medicines you are taking.
Managing chronic pain isn’t limited to the treatments you get from your doctor. You can also learn about your condition and take an active role in your own care. Some things you can do to help manage your chronic pain include:
If pain is bothering you, tell your doctor. Pain is already undertreated, and it may be a long-term condition or a sign of a deeper health issue. You should not have to live with pain.
Pain management often starts with your family doctor. If your doctor suspects your pain may be a serious problem, then he or she may refer you to a pain management specialist.
If you do not have a regular doctor, you can find a pain specialist at the Find a Doctor page on the American Academy of Pain Medicine website
When you go to see your doctor, it’s good to have a list of the questions you’d like to have answered. Take a moment to write down some of the things you want to know. Your questions for your doctor might include some of these:
Other useful resources to help you learn about pain management and take care of your health can be found at:
American Academy of Pain Medicine Patient Center
Partners Against Pain
Wong-Baker FACES Foundation
National Fibromyalgia Association
CFIDS & Fibromyalgia Self-Help
Mayo Clinic Pain Rehabilitation Center in Minnesota
How to Stay Relevant While Aging
Extreme Exercise and Heart Health
The Symptoms of Overextension
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