Last week we presented information about chronic pain, and the differences between short term pain, acute pain and long-term, chronic pain. We also discussed how the body responds and interprets pain. As a review, chronic pain is a condition that occurs when the brain concludes there is a threat to a person’s well-being based on the many signals it receives from the body. This condition can and often does occur independently of any actual body tissue damage (due to injury or illness), and beyond normal tissue healing time. It is estimated that 116 million Americans have chronic pain each year. The cost in the United States is $560–$635 billion annually for medical treatment, lost work time, and lost wages. The causes of chronic pain vary widely. While any condition can lead to chronic pain, there are certain medical conditions more likely to cause chronic pain. These include:
- Diabetes Mellitus
- Limb amputation
- Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
Some diseases, such as cancer and arthritis, cause ongoing pain. With chronic pain, however, pain is created in the nervous system even after physical tissues have healed.
Chronic pain affects each person experiencing it differently. In some cases, chronic pain can lead to decreased activity levels, job loss, or financial difficulties, as well as anxiety, depression, and disability. Physical therapists work together with chronic pain patients to lessen their pain, and restore their activity to the highest possible levels. With treatment, the negative effects of chronic pain can be reduced.
How chronic pain feels varies with each individual; it is very personal. How often it occurs, how severe it is, or how long it lasts is not predictable from one person to another. Here are some common complaints related to chronic pain:
- It may seem as if “everything hurts, everywhere.”
- There may be sudden stabs of pain.
- It may seem as if the pain “has a mind of its own.”
- You feel symptoms even if you are not doing anything to cause them.
- It feels worse when you think about it.
- It feels worse when you experience upsetting circumstances in your life.
- You may feel more anxious and depressed.
- You may feel your symptoms spread from one area to another.
- You may feel fatigued, and afraid to do your normal activities.
These complaints are common when you have chronic pain. However, it does not necessarily mean that your physical condition is worsening; it may just mean that your system has become more sensitive.
Next week we will discuss some common signs and symptoms associated with chronic pain, and what you can do to help make living with and managing chronic pain better.
The American Physical Therapy Association launched a national campaign to raise awareness about the risks of opioids and the safe alternative of physical therapy for long-term pain management. For more information go to moveforwardpt.com.
Katesel Strimbeck PT, MS is the Director of Rehabilitation Services at North Country Hospital. Katesel has been a practicing PT for 20 years. She is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).