At some point in our lives, we all experience pain of one variety or another. Most of the time, this is acute pain — maybe you stubbed your toe on your bed frame or cut your finger while chopping vegetables for dinner. But, the CDC found that approximately 1 in every 5 US citizens is affected by chronic pain.
Whether these individuals have chronic pain conditions, like fibromyalgia, or simply experiencing long-lasting pain, that equates to approximately 50 million US adults with recurring pain. Now, you may be wondering, what is chronic pain? Here we will explore what chronic pain is as well as its causes, diagnosis, and treatments.
What Is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is generally characterized by pain that lasts for over three months. This pain can occur in any area of your body and may even appear in multiple. For some individuals, the pain is constant. Others may have pain that comes and goes.
To be classified as chronic pain, your pain needs to interfere with your daily life in some way. This could mean interfering with your ability to work at your job. Or maybe your pain makes it hard for you to interact with others in your social life. Another example would be if your pain makes it more challenging to care for yourself or others. It is not uncommon for individuals with chronic pain to develop depression, anxiety, or trouble sleeping, creating a difficult cycle to break.
Chronic Pain vs. Other Pain
You may have heard terms like acute, subacute, and chronic as labels for pain if you have talked to a healthcare professional about the pain you are feeling. These three terms can get confusing because there is some overlap between them. Unfortunately, definitions of where these types of pains fall can vary depending on the healthcare facility and individual healthcare providers. So, now you may be wondering what subacute pain is and what is chronic pain.
One study comparing these different pain types notes a few different definitions. One definition says that acute pain lasts between one day and 12 weeks, subacute pain lasts between one and two months, and chronic pain lasts longer than three months. Other approaches say that acute pain restricts daily activities for a month or less, subacute pain lasts for six to twelve weeks, and chronic pain is characterized by pain that restricts daily activities for over twelve weeks. Each of these definitions shows that chronic pain is the most lasting type of pain.
Locations of Chronic Pain
Unfortunately, chronic pain can occur in any part of your body. Sometimes this pain follows a previous injury or procedure, but unlike acute pain, it does not go away in a few weeks. It is also important to note that chronic pain does not have to follow an injury or procedure; it can happen for no apparent reason.
Typical types of chronic pain are:
- Arthritis or joint pain (especially in the hands, feet, wrists, ankles, and hips)
- Migraines or headaches
- Back pain
- Neck pain
- Pain in scar tissue
- Muscle pain all over the body (like with fibromyalgia)
- Neurogenic pain caused by damage to the nervous system
Causes of Chronic Pain Conditions
As mentioned above, sometimes chronic pain can be a lasting effect of an injury or a long-lasting health condition that causes pain. However, this is not always the case. Some individuals may experience chronic pain unrelated to a physical injury or illness. This chronic pain is typically referred to as psychosomatic pain because psychological factors rather than physical ones likely cause it. However, this pain is just as real as chronic pain caused by physical problems. Unfortunately, many people are denied this treatment because of the stigma that psychosomatic pain is “all in the head” and will go away on its own. This is false and can lead to worsening pain and a weakened immune system from your body’s chronic stress.
Causes of chronic pain can include:
- Stress on an area or joint for an extended period of time.
- Autoimmune conditions
- Undiagnosed allergies
- Extreme stress
- Sudden injuries
- Hormonal issues
You may also experience chronic pain from overlapping causes. For example, you could have two long-lasting health conditions that can cause chronic pain. You could also have psychosomatic pain alongside migraines or an illness.
How to Diagnose Chronic Pain
Since the definition of chronic pain can differ, talking about the symptoms of pain you are having is essential for diagnosing chronic pain. Your healthcare provider will ask you the following questions to diagnose chronic pain.
- Where is your pain?
- How long have you been experiencing the pain?
- How often do you experience the pain?
- How intense is your pain? (typically on a scale of 1-10)
- How much does your pain affect your life and work?
- Do you currently have a lot of stress or anxiety?
- Have you had any surgeries or illnesses?
- What makes the pain feel better? And what makes it worse?
Types of Tests Used to Diagnose Chronic Pain
To find the source of the chronic pain, your healthcare provider may physically examine your body. This can include ordering labs or tests like the following.
- Urine tests
- Blood tests
- Imaging tests (such as X-rays and MRIs)
- Reflex and balance tests
- Spinal fluid tests
- Nerve conduction tests to assess nerve reactions
- Electromyography (EMG) tests to assess muscle activity
Treatments for Chronic Pain
Unfortunately, there is no cure for chronic pain. But this does not mean you have to simply deal with your pain. Several treatment options can help you manage your pain and help you more effectively do your daily activities. The treatment that will be the best for you will depend on your pain, overall health, and age. Typically, the most effective treatment plans incorporate various treatment methods — including medication, therapies, and lifestyle shifts.
Some treatment methods are:
- Medications include muscle relaxors, anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-seizure medications, antidepressants, and topical pain relievers.
- Nerve blocks
- Epidural steroid injections
- Physical therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Diet and nutritional changes
- Mindfulness training
- Relaxation techniques, such as meditation or guided imagery
How Carolina’s Pain Center Can Help
If you live in North Carolina and you are struggling with managing your chronic pain, Carolina’s Pain Center can help you. While there is no cure for chronic pain, Carolina’s Pain Center has a dedicated team of pain specialists and providers that ensure each patient receives the personalized and multidisciplinary treatment plan needed to manage their pain.
So, rather than spending your time searching for “pain management charlotte NC” online, make an appointment today to start working on a pain management plan for your chronic pain.