What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain refers to pain that lasts for more than six months. Pain affects more people than cancer, heart disease, and diabetes combined. More than 76 million Americans suffer from chronic pain.1
Often no physical cause can be found for chronic pain. However, the pain is real — not imagined. Pain can be caused by a diverse range of issues, many of them hard to pinpoint. Many chronic pain patients go from doctor to doctor trying all kinds of treatments from steroid injections to surgery. But, often none of these treatments help ease the excruciating pain. Psychotherapy is an often-overlooked treatment that can reduce the suffering of those with chronic pain.
Causes of Chronic Pain
There are many causes of chronic pain. It often starts with an injury. But, sometimes a specific cause cannot be found, in which case it is called idiopathic. Here are some of the most common causes of chronic pain:2
- Repetitive stress injuries
- Muscle sprains and strains
- Nerve damage
- Back and spine problems
- Irritable bowel syndrome
These are just a few of the conditions that cause chronic pain. There are dozens of others.
What Are The Effects Of Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is a debilitating and often unbearable condition for those that live with it. When pain doesn’t go away, even simple daily tasks can be hard. Here are just a few of the negative emotional and physical effects of chronic pain.3
- Lack of energy and fatigue
- Tense muscles
- Sleep problems
- Concentration and memory problems
Treatments for Chronic Pain
The treatments for chronic pain vary considerably. From prescription drugs to acupuncture, there are many approaches. When it comes to treating chronic pain, no single approach is best. Usually, a combination of treatments is needed for relief.
Medications. Both prescription and non-prescription medications are used to treat chronic pain. Usually, doctors will start with over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen. If those don’t work, then they might prescribe medications for pain. Prescription pain medications include antidepressants like Cymbalta, which has been shown to be effective for pain, and stronger opioid medications. Most physicians do not routinely prescribe opioids for chronic pain as these drugs have considerable side effects and risks.4
Injections. Steroid injections are sometimes used to treat joint pain. These can help reduce swelling and inflammation, which is common with joint pain. Trigger point injections are another type of injections used for pain. They are used to treat painful areas of muscle or “trigger points.” These injections help the muscle relax.2
Physical therapy. Physical therapy is another common treatment for pain. Physical therapy can help relieve pain by improving movement and range-of-motion. It can also help strengthen and stretch sore, tight muscles that contribute to pain.2
For many people, medications and physical therapy do not bring full relief of chronic pain. Research suggests that mind-body therapies can be a very effective tool in fighting chronic pain.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Among all of the methods for pain control, CBT is often one of the most effective. It helps to improve the quality of life significantly for people with pain. Chronic pain can lead to anger, sadness, and anxiety. These feelings can make the perception of pain worse. CBT works by helping to change your perception of pain — even if the level of pain stays the same.5
Biofeedback therapy. Biofeedback therapy is a non-drug treatment in which you learn to control heart rate, muscle tension and other bodily processes that are connected with pain. Electrodes are attached to your skin or fingers during a biofeedback session. The electrodes send signals to a monitor. The monitor displays information about your heart rate and other body processes. When you are in pain, there will be changes in your body. For instance, your muscles may tense or your heart rate might speed up. You’ll see these changes on the screen or monitor. Then, you’ll be given immediate feedback from a biofeedback therapist during the session, who will help you learn how to change your body’s reaction to pain. Biofeedback helps you make subtle changes in your body that promote relaxation. This process helps reduce pain.6 Find a therapist trained in biofeedback.
When they are included in a comprehensive treatment plan for pain, these techniques can be quite effective in reversing chronic pain.
Acupuncture. Acupuncture involves the insertion of tiny needles into the skin at specific points around the body. This technique corrects imbalances in the flow of energy throughout the body. It is thought to help with pain by targeting neurotransmitters or chemicals in the brain that contribute to pain. The low risk of complications and adverse effects of this technique combined with its effectiveness make it a good choice for chronic pain management.7
Chiropractic treatment. Chiropractic treatment has been found to provide mild to moderate relief of back, neck, and shoulder pain. During this treatment, a licensed chiropractor will perform spinal manipulative therapy to help relieve pain and improve physical functioning.8
Mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is a simple practice that can help reduce pain. It involves focusing your mind in the present moment and letting go of negative thoughts. Mindfulness meditation is easy to do and takes just a couple of minutes. To learn how to practice mindfulness meditation, check out this blog post.9
Yoga. Yoga is a practice that has its roots in ancient Indian philosophy. This practice combines breathing techniques with physical postures. It also includes a relaxation or meditation component. Research shows that yoga is quite effective at reducing chronic pain associated with migraine, fibromyalgia, low back pain and more. Research suggests that shows that yoga has the opposite effect on the brain as pain. This action helps relieve chronic pain.10
Living With Chronic Pain
Living with chronic pain can be difficult. The good news is that there are plenty of treatments that have shown promise in reducing pain. The first step in managing chronic pain is to choose a treatment plan that addresses the emotional and physical aspects of pain. Locate a therapist in your area or online who specializes in chronic pain therapy.
- NIH Medline Plus. (Spring, 2011). Safely Managing Chronic Pain. Retrieved 4/27/2019 from https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/spring11/articles/spring11pg4.html.
- WebMD. (2019). What Is Chronic Pain Syndrome? Retrieved 4/27/2019 from https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/chronic-pain-syndrome-overview#1-2.
- Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Chronic Pain: Living With Chronic Pain. Retrieved 4/27/2019 from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/11977-chronic-pain-living-with-chronic-pain.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (April 2019). Guidelines For Prescribing Opiates For Chronic Pain. Retrieved 4/27/2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/pdf/Guidelines_Factsheet-a.pdf.
- Lim JA, Choi SH, Lee WJ, et al. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for patients with chronic pain: Implications of gender differences in empathy. Medicine (Baltimore). 2018;97(23). Retrieved 4/27/2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5999451/.
- WebMD. (2019). Overview of Biofeedback. Retrieved 4/27/2019 from https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/biofeedback-therapy-uses-benefits#1.
- Claudia M. Witt, Susanne Jena, Dagmar Selim, Benno Brinkhaus, Thomas Reinhold, Katja Wruck, Bodo Liecker, Klaus Linde, Karl Wegscheider, Stefan N. Willich, Pragmatic Randomized Trial Evaluating the Clinical and Economic Effectiveness of Acupuncture for Chronic Low Back Pain, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 164, Issue 5, 1 September 2006, Pages 487–496. Retrieved 4/27/2019 from https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/164/5/487/83476.
- Salehi A, Hashemi N, Imanieh MH, Saber M. Chiropractic: Is it Efficient in Treatment of Diseases? Review of Systematic Reviews. Int J Community Based Nurs Midwifery. 2015;3(4):244–254. Retrieved 4/27/2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4591574/.
- Migraine Again. (March 2017). Four Behavioral Treatments For Migraines Worth Trying. Retrieved 4/27/2019 from https://migraineagain.com/four-behavioral-treatments-for-migraines/.
- Psychology Today. (May 2015). How Does Yoga Relieve Chronic Pain? Retrieved 4/27/2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201505/how-does-yoga-relieve-chronic-pain.