Chronic pain is a problem that many people live with every day. It is different from acute pain in that it is persistent and does not go away. Acute pain is usually a way that our bodies signal illness. Acute pain usually lasts a few days or weeks, and may be accompanied by some other symptoms. Chronic pain, on the other hand, is constantly there. It directly affects the nervous system and can persist for months to years.
Chronic pain occurs when pain signals in the nervous system continue firing. In the majority of the cases, it is linked to a trauma, injury, or infection, but sometimes it is not linked to any particular condition and medical practitioners find it hard to pinpoint what is causing it exactly.
There are two main forms of chronic pain, namely neuropathic pain and nociceptive pain.
Neuropathic pain comes from injury to the peripheral nerves. Peripheral nerves are all the nerves that connect the spinal cord to the rest of the body.
Nociceptive pain results from constant stimulation of the nociceptors. The nociceptors are pain receptors that transmit pain signals from the affected area to the spinal cord.
People usually have different pain thresholds and feel pain in different ways, making the diagnosis of chronic pain very difficult. Chronic pain can be very frustrating and can result in suffers having other social and emotional problems. Many sufferers end up living a solitary life and have a sedentary lifestyle because of the pain, and this may lead to depression.
This does not have to be the case though. Doctors and other health practitioners can help patients deal with the pain so that they can lead normal lives.
Steps in treatment
1) See a doctor: The first option is to consult a doctor to see what medication they can prescribe. Doctors can determine if there is an underlying problem causing the pain. When seeing a doctor, patients need to make sure that they inform them of all medications that they are taking. Depending on the type and location of the pain, doctors may prescribe anything from muscle relaxants and pain killers to neuropathic agents and steroid medication. Doctors may sometimes also prescribe anti-depressants.
2) Alternative measures: For some people, medication does not work and so they seek alternative forms of treatment. Acupuncture, for instance, has been shown to be very effective in the treatment of chronic pain. Acupuncture involves inserting tiny needles in the body and it is said to relieve pain by stimulating the release of endorphins and serotonin.
Other alternative treatments include mind-body treatments, like meditation and hypnosis. Massage therapies can sometimes also be prescribed as a way to relax the muscles and get the blood circulating.
3) Exercise can help: Chronic pain sufferers may find the thought of exercise excruciating, but it is important to stay as active as possible. The exercise can be modified according to pain perception.
4) Pain management programs: Many people choose to check into in pain rehabilitation centres where all of the above treatments (and more) are prescribed. The advantage of these clinics is that they cater to individual needs and offer specialised attention. Rehabilitation centres differ so a lot of research first needs to be done before enrolling for anything.
It is important to always consult a doctor before any major decisions on treatments are made. A lot of research is still being done, but with help from doctors and support from friends and family, it is increasingly possible for people suffering from chronic pain to lead normal active lives.
Zimasa Mpemnyama is young enough and generally healthy enough to have avoided chronic pain so far. What she never does, however, is ignore pain, as the potential health risks are too great to contemplate.