Pain is considered chronic when it lasts for three months or longer beyond what would be considered a normal healing period. There are many diseases and illnesses that can cause chronic pain. If left untreated, chronic pain can lead to many physical and mental health problems, lowering your quality of life and causing great distress and frustration. Chronic pain can also affect your relationships with others. People suffering from chronic pain seek treatment from many healthcare professionals, and may have tried surgery and many different medicines to control pain. Patients are often left without hope when told by their physician that nothing else can be done.
Treating chronic pain often requires the combined use of many different kinds of treatment, because severe pain is a complicated problem that affects both physical and mental health.
Chronic pain occurs when someone has pain that persists despite all available curative surgeries and medication therapies — or when pain itself becomes a medical condition.
An injury may have occurred at the onset of pain, but this is not always the case. Ongoing pain over a few months can cause the nervous system to change, which means that pain can linger even after the injury itself heals.
- Traumatic injury and/or stressful life events
- Worsening medical or surgical conditions
- Genetic or family history
Many unknown factors can also increase the risk of developing chronic pain.
After a completing a comprehensive physical exam and taking details about your personal life and health history, your physician will review any imaging studies and sometimes order one or more tests. This thorough evaluation will allow your physician to determine the best treatment for your chronic pain.
Exhausted by their constant unrelieved distress and fear that the pain will worsen, many people with chronic pain become isolated from their family and friends. Untreated chronic pain can also lead to both physical and psychological problems. Regular use of some pain medicines can cause side effects. In particular, the long-term use of opioid pain medicines can lead to physical and psychological dependence and sometimes addiction.
Self-care is crucial for improvement in chronic pain conditions, because medicine, when used alone, typically only reduces the intensity of the pain by 30 to 50 percent. You can significantly reduce the severity and impact of your chronic pain by active involvement in your pain control plan and through:
- Routine physical activity
- Improved diet
- Regularly practiced mental health exercises
- Follow-through on achieving realistic goals
- Maintaining healthy attitudes