What is Chronic Pain?
Everyone knows that pain is a universal human experience, but pain is personal to you.
Pain continues to be researched so we can understand this complex condition further. Current research has identified that pain is 100% of the time caused by our brains whether it is acute or chronic pain.
Without going into too much detail, it may help to briefly explain the difference between your chronic pain and acute pain.
If you have had pain for 3 months or more, then it is classified as chronic pain. This pain is common and can be caused by conditions such as arthritis, nerve damage, the result of an injury or problem that has often healed. Sometimes it develops slowly over time as result of an injury or surgery; sometimes it seems to develop for no particular reason.
Chronic pain is different to acute pain as it doesn’t seem to go away and often doesn’t respond to treatments. After 3 – 6 months, the body is healed as well as can be expected, so the on-going pain is being produced by the pain is more about the sensitivity of the nervous system.
A good way to understand this is to think of a burglar alarm. Lights flash, the alarm sounds when someone is trying to break into your house, grabbing your attention so you can react to it. However alarms are frustrating, irritating and annoying when they go off because a fly goes into the sensor. The alarm sounds, the lights flash but no-one is breaking into your house and there is no danger. In chronic pain, the pain sensing nerves are sending off the same ‘threat’ chemicals as if there was an instant threat of danger or injury when none exists and this pattern repeats itself. Your nervous system notices anything that might make it react, such as lack of sleep, over activity, underactivity, the weather, your mood and stress levels.
If you have had pain for a few days or weeks, this is acute pain. It’s often associated with tissue damage such as a sprained ankle. Pain is an unpleasant signal in the body, which in acute pain acts as a warning signal. Pain demands attention and interrupts our daily lives. We want an explanation about our pain and pain insists that we get help to relieve it.
Research identifies this as the ‘threat response’. Whilst we think we are in danger we will feel pain. Our brain releases chemicals, muscles become tense, more protective chemicals are released to guard against more damage. Our thoughts (worry/ anxiety) create chemicals which are released to help us find out what is wrong and why we have pain. The stress of having pain causes further chemicals to be released into our bodies making us respond and get help.
Acute pain is normally relieved either by time, physiotherapy, medical or surgical treatment, pain killers, or a mixture of treatments. Sometimes it can be relieved without medical treatments. The general advice is stay active and gradually return to your everyday activities such as work.
Chronic pain and your mental health
Extensive research has shown that having chronic pain can lead to sadness, depression, anxiety, isolation, stress, low mood, a sense of hopelessness and worthlessness.
When your chronic pain has been thoroughly and completely investigated and treated – without success – it may have to be accepted that there is no known cure at present. Research has shown that the very best way to tackle chronic pain is to learn how we can affect our pain system ourselves, by what we do, by what we think and by learning how to really relax