Chronic pain is that which has persisted for longer than six months. Commonly back or arthritic pain.
The sensation of pain is very individual, as is the ability to tolerate it. The type of pain experienced depends on the underlying cause. Chronic pain may be mild or agonising, sporadic or continuous, and commonly symptoms are:
Spasmodic or cramping muscle pain, especially in the back or neck
Headache (e.g. sinus headache)
Arthritis or joint pain
Weakness of the muscles in the affected body part
Numbness, tingling or other sensations
The causes of chronic pain are many and varied, including:
Degenerative bone and joint diseases such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis
Nerve damage (e.g. sciatica)
Injuries that fail to heal properly
Curvature and misalignment of the spine
Underlying disease (e.g. uterine fibroids, cancer, depression)
Some patients also experience pain for which no physical cause can be detected. An example of this is the musculo-skeletal disorder fibromyalgia, in which muscular pain described as throbbing, burning or shooting, is accompanied by such symptoms as stiffness, strange skin sensations, irritable bowel syndrome, PMS, and insomnia.
Chronic pain should be discussed with your healthcare professional, who will investigate the underlying causes and work with you to treat or manage the pain, using measures which may include hypnotherapy, physiotherapy, acupuncture and chiropractic.
The treatment of chronic pain depends on the underlying cause of your condition. Commonly used remedies include:
Glucosamine has been shown to relieve the pain and increase mobility in osteoarthritis
Magnesium is anti-spasmodic and may be of assistance in conditions characterised by muscular cramping or spasm; it is also indicated to assist the body in coping with stress
Devils claw may be useful in arthritic and painful musculo-skeletal conditions
Pain can have a substantial effect on your well-being. For example, persistent severe pain can erode the natural threshold to pain and cause personality changes such as irritability and depressed mood. Work with your healthcare professional to develop a comprehensive treatment and management plan that suits you and your lifestyle.
Regular exercise causes “feel good” chemicals called endorphins to be released by the brain. These can help to relieve the sensation of pain and enhance your mood. Additionally, exercise can benefit long-term pain by improving muscle tone, strength, and flexibility. Low impact forms of exercise, such as Tai chi and swimming, are preferable for chronic pain sufferers.
Some people find that certain foods aggravate their chronic pain condition. Common culprits include the nightshade group of vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum and chilli), caffeine, alcohol, yeast and sugar.
Take rest when your body needs it – this is an important part of the recuperation process. However, be aware that long periods of inactivity can lead to weakening and wasting of the muscles – consult your healthcare professional about your concerns in this area.
Regular massage may provide temporary relief of muscle tension, stiffness and spasms, as well as relaxing your nervous system. Many people also find warm baths with epsom salts to be beneficial. (Some conditions, such as fibromyalgia, also respond well to cold showers or compresses).
Always allow an injury to fully heal before re-commencing your exercise programme. Consult your healthcare professional if recovery is not occurring within the time frame it should.
Most forms of chronic pain can be treated or managed. Discuss your symptoms with your healthcare professional who can help to determine the cause of the pain, and the most appropriate treatment.
Some forms of pain medication have side-effects if taken in excess. Never take more than the recommended dose of medicine, and consult your healthcare professional if over-the-counter remedies are not providing relief for your condition.