Pain is a normal and useful symptom (created by the brain) to alert you to actual or perceived danger. It’s purpose is to help to keep you safe. The amount of pain you experience may be very different to another person and does not necessarily relate to how much tissue damage has occurred.
Chronic pain is when pain persists for longer than 3 months. About 1 in 5 people experience chronic pain in their life. Chronic pain can be common with certain conditions such as arthritis, Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, Multiple Sclerosis and many more.
What normally happens when you hurt yourself?
For example if we have a back sprain; nociceptors (sensory receptors) in the muscles or vertebral joints detect when danger or “damage” has occurred. This information is passed from the receptors up nerves to the spinal cord and then onto the brain. The brain decides if a response is needed. If a response is needed, you may experience pain and other bodily systems may become involved such as the respiratory system which may increase your breathing rate and the muscular system which may cause muscle spasm.
How does chronic pain happen?
Over time, the brain gets very good at producing pain and in turn, less input is needed to raise the alarm. We call this Central Sensitisation. Over time you may become more sensitive to pain. Also, things which never hurt before can now become painful. Pain may also be unpredictable. Interestingly, some thoughts or feelings can also cause pain without you even being in any physical danger.
Key symptoms of chronic pain:
- Pain persists longer than it takes for the original injury to heal.
- The pain may spread or worsen.
- Pain may be unpredictable. Actions which were not painful now hurt or pain is variable from one day to the next.
- Pain may be worse when you are angry, worried or stressed.
- You may anticipate pain which may mean that imagining moving in a certain way makes you feel pain.
How do you treat chronic pain?
Treating chronic pain relies not solely on treating the body’s tissues but addressing the multiple contributing factors. This method is backed up by scientific evidence.
Trying to “beat the pain” or avoiding pain doesn’t help in the long run and can result in feeling limited in what you can manage.
Treatment may include:
- Education to better understand chronic pain and your body
- Graded exposure
- Self pacing strategies
- Gentle exercise
Treating chronic pain can include help from different medical practitioners including your GP, physio, occupational therapist, psychologist and exercise physiologist.