In 2016 the NHS reported that 43% of adults in the UK are suffering with chronic pain. That’s around 28 million adults. Add the total number of children suffering and the figure reaches 30+ million. In spite of this, many of us are ignorant to what chronic pain really is. So often in our lives, when it comes to pain we’ll be told ‘grin and bear it’, ‘just focus on something else’, or ‘pain is gain’. What if that pain were to continue, dully, excruciatingly, persistent or fluctuating for months or years, would you tell someone to just get on with it?
With so many sufferers of chronic pain, but such a small knowledge base for a lot of us, I want to share some of chronic pain’s most commonly misunderstood facts noticed by chronic pain recovery specialists.
Chronic Pain Has No Singular Cause
Chronic pain is often difficult to diagnose because it doesn’t always have an identifiable cause, nor is it specific to age or gender – chronic pain can affect anyone. People can experience chronic pain after an original injury is healed so that scans would not show any physical trauma. Repressed emotions, stress, and trauma can also manifest as chronic pain which certainly wouldn’t be detected on an X-ray. Diagnosing chronic pain can therefore be a distressing and frustrating time for patients. A specialist in chronic pain recovery can identify the symptoms by understanding an individual’s history and triggers for pain. A
Not Everyone Experiences Chronic Pain in the Same Way
Chronic pain can affect different parts of the body. It may be concentrated in a particular area such as the back, leg, headaches and migraines. Similarly, the type of pain sensation will not only vary in the individual, but across all patients with chronic pain. It may be that the pain is an aching, dull, stabbing, electric, or burning feeling – or a combination. Another symptom of chronic pain is a transfer of pain, sometimes in non-associated areas like wrist to head. It is for this reason that seeing a specialist in healing pain is the best route to recovery from chronic pain.
Medication is Not Always the Best Treatment
Opioids are a widely used prescribed medication for sufferers of chronic pain. However, the reliance upon medication, and their side effects can negatively impact a patient’s quality of life. Not only that, medication may alleviate pain in the short term, but it will not address the cause of pain. Many sufferers of chronic pain will only see their local GP, who will likely offer pain relieving medication. Whilst the knowledge of a GP is very broad, they aren’t able to sustain the depth of a specialist in chronic pain and pain management. Alternative treatments including physiotherapy and acupuncture are available. However, where stress and emotional trauma are triggers for chronic pain, journaling, EFT or “tapping”, meditation and psychotherapy can be not only more effective than medication, but also help patients to wean off medication and recover completely.
Chronic Pain Can Cause Sleep Deprivation
Think about the last time you had a bad night’s sleep. Think about how getting up to go to work and go through your daily routine was particularly difficult. Decision making and general motivation to get things done throughout the day is tough, plus you were probably a little cranky. Imagine if that were a regular occurrence. Imagine that scenario whilst living with chronic pain. Most sufferers of chronic pain will have disturbed sleep every night. The combined frustration and exhaustion can understandably affect the mental wellbeing of an individual with chronic pain and can exacerbate the pain.
Chronic Pain can be Lonely
At school we learn about the flu virus; in life we learn that touching the hob will hurt - we don’t learn about chronic pain. The all too common perception that chronic pain sufferers exaggerate their symptoms for sympathy also stems from this ignorance. Quite the contrary, studies and my own clinical experience with treatment of chronic pain patients show that most sufferers will down play the extent of their pain. This is usually in an effort to protect their loved ones. Consequently, they can become isolated in their agony. In extreme cases, the unpredictability of a chronic pain flare up can mean consistently cancelled plans with friends and family, and a subsequent loss of invites. Where professional pain treatment is not provided isolation can become another catalyst for depression.
Chronic Pain is Not Constant Pain
Acute pain, which is stimulated by an impact of some sort, is temporary. It may be as minor as a sore finger from a paper cut or further up the scale a broken leg in a sporting accident. In both cases, the resulting pain should be momentary or lasting less than 3-6 months. Chronic pain on the other hand, is sustained beyond 12 weeks. This pain however, is not constant. It can even cover spells of pain spread out over a number of years. In most cases, the pain will fluctuate according to its stimulants. They may be as unprovoked as changes in the weather, but are often linked to stress in whatever form.
Pain is Not a Part of Ageing
We should not even expect aching joints. Wear and tear is a natural part of ageing and yet recent research proves that it’s not a cause of chronic pain. Arthritic hips and knees should not cause debilitating pain. Certainly, the older we get, the more likely we are to develop conditions that can cause the onset of chronic pain, but that does not mean that pain treatment should be ignored.