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What is Chronic Pain?

One in three Americans (and probably Canadians) suffer from some form of chronic pain. CHRONIC PAIN is pain that does not go away despite your efforts. It disrupts your home life and work, affects your emotional and social life, is often misunderstood by others, and can take over your life. Pain tells you what you can do, when to do it, and how much to do. It keeps from living a full life. There are, however, steps that you can take to gain back control of your life.

1. Understand the pain. ACUTE PAIN (short term) tells you there is something wrong and then goes away. It usually starts with an illness or injury. Pain messages are released through pain 'gates' and go to the brain. The brain responds by protecting the injury from further damage by closing down the pain gates to reduce the level of pain. CHRONIC PAIN doesn't go away. It is constant and often difficult to treat because the cause of the pain may be unclear or cannot be removed (i.e. arthritis pain). When the chronic pain bell sounds, it does not necessarily mean you are injuring yourself so you do not need to stop the activity.

2. Learn to manage your pain. Managing pain means making the necessary changes that can help you meet your physical, emotional, and social needs.

3. Assess the role chronic pain plays in your life:

Physical Effects

Does the pain make it hard for you to what you want?
Yes or No

Do you put off doing things until the pain goes away?
Yes or No

Do you take pain medications even though they don't seem to help?
Yes or No

Emotional Effects

Do you often feel angry, depressed, or frustrated because of your pain?
Yes or No

Do you find it hard to accept yourself the way you are now?
Yes or No

Do you ever feel that other people think your pain is not real?
Yes or No

Social Effects:

Are you unable to plan or join in family activities?
Yes or No

Do you find yourself taking more time off from work?
Yes or No

Are you alone most of the time, away from your friends?
Yes or No

4. When you are in pain it is natural to limit activities. This, however, can make the situation worse by leading you into a chronic pain cycle.

a. Chronic pain causes you to rest for long periods of time. This lack of activity cause you to lose strength and flexibility. This leads you to feel less able to do things and you rest even more.

b. This leads to frustration and depression.

c. This leads you to push yourself to catch up on everything, trying to prove to others as well as yourself that you can still do what you did before chronic pain started.

d. Pushing too hard aggravates your symptoms. This causes you to rest more, feel discouraged and depressed, afraid of doing things.

What Can You Do:

Attempting your pain and taking responsibility for controlling it is primary for gaining back your life.

  • Learn to relax (deep breathing, relaxation exercises, visualization).
  • Do a little more each day.
  • Exercise according to your body's abilities and needs.
  • Modify your environment (you can avoid pain by accepting to use tools to help yourself, i.e. reaching high places with a special stick), the physiotherapist or the Arthritis Society can help in this regard.
  • Treat flare-ups as they occur, don't ignore them or you'll find yourself suffering more than necessary.
  • Do not overuse medications, decrease their use slowly (never cold turkey), medications can lead to other problems such as addiction, depression and tolerance (if the level of medication isn't helping you'll take more and more to relieve the pain, eventually, the medication will not work), do not use alcohol or illegal drugs to dull the pain or depression as they can lead to physical and psychological problems.
  • Seek out a medical professional who can identify treatable conditions.
  • Physical therapists can evaluate problems with strength, flexibility, and balance. They can give you exercises to help with each. They also can show you ways to decrease pain while doing activities.
  • Use of TENS (a small box-shaped device controlled by a dial that creates electrical impulses and interrupts pain messages), nerve blocks (local anaesthetic that blocks the nerves from sending pain messages), Biofeedback (your body is hooked up to a machine that produces signals telling your body how tense the muscles are) so you can learn to control tension (tension increases pain), increases your tolerance and may reduce pain.

Compiled from:
Dealing with Chronic Pain, Krames Communications

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