Chronic or persistent pain is common and can lead to disability or reduced ability to manage our daily lives. There are many conditions or factors which result in chronic pain including post-operative pain, trauma, arthritis and cancer.
What is pain?
By definition, pain is considered to be an unpleasant sensory or emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or trauma.
The purpose of pain is to act as an alarm system for our body. It is similar to the sensation of fatigue when we are tired, thirst when we need to drink or the sensation of hunger when our body needs to eat. This alarm system serves us well following an acute injury. Pain following an acute injury is designed to protect us from further damage.
Our perception of pain is a very individual experience, but all pain is real. Recent research has shown that our perception of pain is complex. David Butler and Lorimer Mosley have pioneered our understanding and this video will give you a good and entertaining explanation of pain. It has been identified that our perception of pain is an output of the brain that draws on previous biological, psychological and social experiences. These complex factors interact to determine a unique and individual pain experience.
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic or persistent pain is pain that has lasted for greater than three months and usually develops after the original cause of the pain has healed or gone away. It can be mild to severe and can continue day after day or come and go, like throbbing, a dull ache, burning, shooting and many other varieties.
This pain is caused by our alarm system becoming hypersensitive as the pain caused by trauma or damage is generally healed, but the body or pain system remains on high alert.
What can influence pain?
Given that pain is an individual and unique experience, it can be increased or reduced by a number of factors. This is often referred to as a “pain umbrella” with factors that increase pain and other factors that decrease pain.
For example, common factors that increase one’s perception of pain include anxiety, worry or stress. Things that can decrease our experience of pain include factors that increase our happy hormones such as endorphins or dopamine. This includes spending time with friends and family, exercise and mindfulness.
Of course, medication can also assist in reducing your pain. Depending on the nature of your medication, these work at different stages of the pain cycle.
What should I do if I have chronic pain?
Our advice is to stay as active as you can, eat well, sleep well and get some support if you need it. But this is not enough, so start by seeking advice from your trusted health professional. A multi-factorial approach is recommended to manage your chronic pain. You can get advice from your GP, your physiotherapist, a pain specialist, or a pain management clinic.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on how you manage your pain. Feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about chronic pain in Episode 18 of The Better Ageing Podcast:
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