If You Answered YES to Any of the Questions Above, Let Me Help!Pain can have a major impact on our lives, with each person experiencing it a little differently. In some cases, pain can lead to decreased activity levels, job loss and financial difficulties, anxiety, depression, and even disability. Initially, pain is a good thing because it is our body telling us that something is wrong. This initial, acute pain is usually associated with tissue damage from an injury, and should only take a couple of weeks to heal, with your pain fully resolved within 1-2 months. Pain that is persistent and lasts for more than 3 months is considered to be chronic pain.
What is Chronic Pain?Chronic pain is when your brain continues to produce pain signals even though the initial injury has already healed normally. You are not alone if you are experiencing it since it is estimated that 116 million Americans have chronic pain each year, costing $560–$635 billion annually for medical treatment, lost work time, and lost wages. Many patients tell me, “It feels like there must be something that is still wrong”. This is because the condition of chronic pain is complex and can lead to an increased nervous system sensitivity, constantly feeling pain, and having a stimulus that is non-painful (ex. light touch) now feeling painful.
What most people don’t know, is the answer to eliminating their chronic pain has less to do with a body tissue (muscle, bone, or ligament), and more to do with decreasing your nervous system sensitivity by retraining your brain!
- Pain Medication – This can help with decreasing pain initially, especially with people experiencing high levels of pain. Prescribed by your physician, the dose should be tapered off as your pain decreases, and then stopped completely within weeks of initially taking it.
- Diet and Lifestyle Changes – While most of know that things like watching a lot of TV, smoking, excessive drinking, being overweight, and eating processed foods are not good for us, it is important to note that these things also increase sensitivity to pain. Start taking steps towards a healthy lifestyle by stopping unhealthy habits, eating healthier, and working in some light exercise (only 30 minutes at day of walking). While these changes can be hard, the benefits you will receive will be well worth it!
- Change Your Thoughts and Emotions – Look at the events around the time when your pain started that may be contributing to your current symptoms. Past events that cause stress, worry, and negative emotions can be linked to increased pain. Changing the way you think, can change the way you feel!
- Movement – Many people with chronic pain are fearful of movement because they do not want to cause any more pain to occur. Getting comfortable moving your area of sensitivity again without fear of pain or injury through patient education, gentle exposure to movement, and light activity are essential in retraining your brain and decreasing sensitivity.
- Control Stress – As stated above, your thoughts and emotions can greatly affect your mood and lead to increased stress levels. Stress is complex and can lead to worse health outcomes, unhealthy coping patterns, depression, and a poor quality of life. Some proven treatments to decrease stress include: Cognitive behavioral therapy (problem solving, relaxation, reframing your thinking), mindfulness techniques, and living a healthy lifestyle.