Chronic pain impacts more than 50 million Americans. For some, the pain is due to an underlying condition such as fibromyalgia or osteoarthritis, while for others, the pain may be due to an injury or operation. Approximately one out of five Americans reports dealing with chronic pain on a daily basis.
Despite the prevalence, it can be difficult to explain what chronic pain feels like, sometimes leading to misdiagnosis or ineffective treatment. Many patients also wonder how long chronic pain can last, and it’s challenging to answer this question without first knowing what triggers the pain and what strategies can alleviate it.
Defining Chronic Pain
Chronic pain, according to the NCCIH, is persistent pain that lasts for more than 12 weeks, even after treatment or constant medication.
Pain is complex to understand, and the reported intensity of pain can differ for every person. The brain and nervous system are responsible for most, if not all, pain signals in the body. While the nerves are responsible for delivering information to the brain, our brains may not always interpret these messages correctly. For many dealing with chronic pain, these pain signals sent by the nervous system to the brain are incorrectly interpreted or constantly being sent.
Where Does Chronic Pain Come From?
The most common locations for chronic pain are the back, hip, knee, and foot. Chronic pain can arise from multiple underlying conditions, and depending on a person’s physical state and activity levels, it is more likely to arise in some people than others. Some common triggers for chronic pain include:
- After-effects of surgery, medical procedure, or injury
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Compounding back pain
However, it’s important to understand that chronic pain doesn’t always have a visible, measurable cause. The nervous system is complex, and chronic pain has also been linked to many emotional and mental health conditions, including depression. Even with no apparent cause, individuals can deal with immense pain that hinders their daily activities.
The Symptoms of Chronic Pain
Because each person has a different pain tolerance, there is no standard definition of what chronic pain feels like. Common symptoms include:
- Constant aching
- Shooting pain
- Burning sensations
Some secondary symptoms may include trouble sleeping, heightened anxiety, loss of appetite or desires, short tempers, and an inclination toward substance abuse. Patients with chronic pain are also at an increased risk of suicide and suicidal ideation.
When you describe to your primary healthcare provider that your pain has consistently lasted for more than three months, they will usually diagnose it as chronic pain. Your doctor will try to identify the root of the pain, but not all cases are simple to decode. Many physicians will recommend a full-body health check-up to illuminate what may be causing the pain.
Since the physician can only go by their patient’s explanation of what the pain feels like and where it is coming from, it can be challenging to understand right away what is causing the chronic pain. Some questions that your physician may ask include:
- How often does the pain occur?
- How intense does it feel to you on a scale of 1 to 10?
- Does the pain impact your work, personal life, or any other activities?
- Have you found any ways to make the pain subside, such as sitting in a different position?
- Do you have a history of any illnesses, surgeries, or medical procedures?
When answering these questions, it’s important to talk about how the chronic pain feels in comparison to other experiences in your life or how it affects your daily routine. For instance, it is helpful to share which household chores or work-related tasks you have trouble performing because of your pain.
Your doctor may recommend that you undergo other tests to diagnose possible reasons behind the chronic pain. These can include spinal fluid tests, reflex and balance tests, and possibly electromyography.
How Long Does Chronic Pain Last?
While there is a minimum period that classifies pain as being chronic pain, there is no “maximum” length of time it can last. In some cases, treatment is effective in lessening the pain within several weeks. Other times, the pain becomes a years-long battle.
Not all conditions that lead to chronic pain have simple treatment options, and for lifelong conditions like arthritis and diabetes, chronic pain can be present constantly. If the source of the pain is an injury or surgery, you may have to deal with years of pain that can be associated with scar tissue or the regeneration of nerves. Management of pain becomes the only goal if you are dealing with chronic pain that is likely to stay for years.
Limiting Chronic Pain
While there is no one reason that an individual develops chronic pain, there are possible lifestyle choices you can make to limit it. These include:
- Maintaining an active lifestyle: It’s no secret that the rise of technology has also led to increasingly sedentary lifestyles. Regular exercise can not only keep your muscles active but actively prevent other conditions like heart attacks and obesity.
- Learning stress management techniques: Chronic pain can be worsened by stress, and with time, make it impossible to deal with the pain. Learning about techniques such as meditation or deep breathing can help manage the pain better when it comes.
- Eating a healthy diet: Consuming the nutrients needed by the body to maintain optimal health is crucial when you are looking to prevent chronic pain.
- Treating injuries early: While an injury may not seem immediately serious, it never hurts to visit a physician just in case. Prompt treatment can help prevent the occurrence of chronic pain and help injuries heal timely.
Coping with Chronic Pain
Physiotherapy and other relaxation techniques, such as meditation, can help you cope with the feelings of chronic pain over time. When the pain is related to other conditions such as nerve damage or cancer, you may be a candidate for medical marijuana.
Delta-8 and CBD products are available without a prescription in Texas. While many people associate cannabis with smoking, hemp-based products are also available as softgel capsules to swallow as you would any other pill.
Research has supported cannabis as a safer, healthier alternative to opioids as it comes without the addictive side effects. Marijuana has been shown to reduce pain perception and inflammation, and many patients report feeling less anxious as well.
If you have questions about medical cannabis or any over-the-counter CBD products, reach out for a confidential call with Texas 420 Doctors.