28 million people in the UK suffer with chronic pain. Is chronic pain affecting your life? Keep reading to find out more about what chronic pain is and how to manage it.
Pain is something that most of us encounter, at one point or another. Normally as a result of injury or illness, the pain goes away after several weeks. Chronic pain is different. This is pain that persists for longer than 12 weeks. It can be difficult to manage and is often misunderstood. The word ‘chronic’ means longstanding or long-term. In the same way, a chronic illness is one that you have for a long time.
What causes chronic pain?
Many people who are living with chronic pain also have a long-term health condition. Common conditions include diabetes, fibromyalgia, arthritis and back pain. In this case, the pain is often symptomatic of another health issue. However, chronic pain doesn’t necessarily come from illness.
The science behind chronic pain:
The brain and the spinal cord make up the Central Nervous System (CNS). This is the body’s control centre. It’s responsible for everything we do, think and feel.
The nerves inside the spinal cord have a very important job. They carry signals to the brain from all around the body, and vice versa. Like everything we feel, pain is triggered by a series of signals in the CNS. When it receives these signals, it’s the brain’s job to work out how severe this pain is.
Sometimes the brain misinterprets these signals. Pain normally goes away in time, but the brain can continue sending pain signals out even when the source of the problem is gone. These signals can be tricky to stop, which results in chronic pain.
Chronic pain is therefore a very real problem for many people. It’s incorrect to say that this pain is ‘in someone’s head’ or ‘imagined’. This pain is no more imagined than any other bodily feelings. It’s simply triggered from an abundance of signals.
Living with chronic pain
There are a number of ways to treat chronic pain, ranging from medication to lifestyle changes. People with chronic pain may often find that the most effective treatment combines several different methods.
Over-the-counter painkillers can be used to treat chronic pain. It’s important to be aware that these should be used in conjunction with lifestyle changes such as staying active. The simplest non-prescription medication is paracetamol. You could also try an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen. Try this for two weeks. If it does not provide you any relief, speak to your GP about alternative options. Medication for pain management should always be guided by your doctor or specialist.
If you are currently taking long-term medication and would like a simper solution to managing your doses, check out the PillTime method. We specialise in medication management.
Exercise can help relieve pain. Many of us spend a large portion of our day sitting down. You may not realise it, but this can put strain on the body. Extended periods of sitting can put pressure on the lower back, especially if your posture is incorrect. Being inactive also makes us more prone to other health issues, such as obesity and heart disease.
When exercising with chronic pain, pick something that won’t put too much pressure on the body. Good options include swimming, walking, yoga and pilates. If you’re unable to perform these activities, try something gentler. Practicing stretches and core activities can help you retain strength and movement.
As well as exercising on your own, you may find it helpful to see a physical therapist. These are trained professionals who can provide specific stretches and movements to help relieve your pain. By manipulating the body, physical therapy helps you to increase your mobility and make everyday tasks easier. Physical therapy can be delivered by:
- Occupational Therapists
If you’re unsure about which option may be right for you, speak to your GP or specialist. You could also search online to find out if there are any physical therapy centres nearby.
Pain can also be managed through mental techniques. Lots of people find meditation helpful, as it helps the body and mind to relax. Meditation involves focusing your attention on your breath and letting all other thoughts exit your mind. It takes practice to shut off from a busy mind, but it’s worth investing your time in trying.
YouTube has lots of guided meditation videos specifically designed for pain management. You could also try an app such as Headspace or Calm. In some areas, the NHS provide a Pathway for Pain course to help you learn tactics on coping with persistent pain. Speak to your GP or specialist for more information on accessing this course.
Living with chronic pain can be consuming, but it’s important to try and live life as usual. Staying in work and doing nice things in your spare time can help provide a useful distraction to your pain. Do things that make you happy, whether that’s reading a book you love or seeing a friend. When you’re happy, your body releases endorphins, which can help relax you and reduce your pain levels.