We’ve all been there – you bend your back suddenly and a familiar twinge rises to the surface. Although pain is a normal part of life, at what point does it need to be addressed by a doctor? Pain can be placed into two categories: acute and chronic. The distinction between the two can mean the difference between resting on the couch for a few days and severe pain lasting for years.
Acute pain is the body’s normal response to a harmful stimulus. When you touch a hot surface, for example, your body reacts by activating pain receptors which alert you to immediately pull your hand away. Acute pain typically lasts less than three to six months and gradually resolves as the injured tissues heal. When the injury heals, the pain stops.
Chronic pain is unique in that the pain itself becomes a disease. In fact, the psychological effects of chronic pain are often times just as significant as the painful physical condition itself. Chronic pain can last for months, even years, and occurs when pain persists even after the injury has healed. Additionally, one’s nervous system is sometimes altered making the individual more sensitive to pain. This may result in more severe, longer lasting painful sensations.
It is very important to develop coping skills. Some people are able to live a relatively healthy lifestyle despite the pain, and others are unable to do so. It is very important to understand that you are not alone. In order to deal with chronic pain, these are a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Exercise – Although this may be difficult, under the guidance of a certified physical therapist, a proper home exercise regimen can be tailored to an individual.
2. Eat healthy – Proper nutrition can add to a healthy life-style in general.
3. Learn to relax – Take some time to relax completely. Meditation and yoga are great modalities to help one relax, especially while listening to your favorite peaceful music.
4. Get a proper night’s sleep – Sleep disturbance is very common amongst patients with chronic pain. It is important to try to relax, to not eat heavy meals prior to going to bed, and to wind down after a long day.
5. Try alternative treatments – Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS units), massage therapy, acupuncture, and other modalities are often useful.
Pain psychologists and counselors can be beneficial for most patients with chronic pain. Although narcotics are very useful in treating many painful conditions, they are only part of treating chronic pain. It is important to realize that medications do not cure pain, but rather are there to allow one to function better than they would without medications.
Speak with your doctor or pain specialist if you are having a hard time coping with chronic pain. If chronic pain starts affecting your personal life and self image, or interfering with your work and relationships, it is important to seek the proper medical assistance.