Chronic pain can be debilitating and disruptive. But there are some things you can do right now to reduce your risk of severe pain down the road. In this article, we’ll also look at coping with different chronic pain types.
What is Chronic Pain?
We’ve all experienced acute pain: That’s what happens when you twist your ankle or strain your back. Acute pain can be intense but is short-lived. With proper treatment, acute pain goes away as the injury heals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that acute pain resolves in four weeks or less. If your pain lasts longer, it may be considered chronic pain. Chronic pain can be caused by health conditions such as arthritis, an injury that did not heal properly, or repetitive motions at work, at home, or on the sports court.
Reducing the Risk of Chronic Pain
It would be impossible to eliminate the risk of chronic pain altogether. But you can take steps to minimize your likelihood of developing a chronic pain condition. These include:
- Improving your overall fitness
- Taking injuries seriously, including seeing a doctor and allowing ample time to rest
- Cross-training to keep all muscles and joints healthy and in balance
- Using an ergonomic workstation
- Taking frequent breaks during repetitive tasks
- Getting enough sleep
Treatment Options for Chronic Pain
Regardless of your age or the specific body part that hurts, the Department of Health and Human Services notes that a multidisciplinary approach is often the best way to manage chronic pain. There are five broad categories of treatment options for you and your doctor to consider.
Medications can be an important element in treating chronic pain. However, some pain medications are highly addictive, and many have unpleasant side effects. Your goal should always be to balance medication solutions with other treatment options and to use the lowest dose of pain medication that still allows you to have a high quality of life. As you work through different treatments, you and your doctor should revisit your medication prescriptions frequently.
This category of treatments includes physical therapy and occupational therapy. It also includes complementary tools and techniques such as massage therapy, transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS), therapeutic ultrasound, targeted bracing, and even the application of heat or cold. Working with a good physical therapist and/or occupational therapist can help you set realistic pain reduction goals and work toward achieving them. It can also be a first line of defense in reducing the risk of chronic pain following an injury.
Interventional procedures are minimally invasive treatments in a doctor’s office, clinic, or outpatient facility. The goal is to provide targeted relief to the painful area of the body. Interventional solutions include, but are not limited to:
- Epidural steroid injections: A long-lasting steroidal medication is injected into the epidural space around the spinal cord.
- Radiofrequency ablation: A specific nerve is “burned off” through needle application of a targeted electrical burst. Cryoneuroablation is similar, freezing rather than burning the nerve.
- Neuromodulation: This therapy uses electrical or magnetic stimulation to activate tissues in the nervous system that are responsible for natural pain relief.
- Trigger point injections: These injections use local anesthesia or dry needling to disrupt trigger points—tightly wound bands of muscle fiber that can cause chronic pain.
There are many other types of interventional procedures, and new therapies are being studied every day. By targeting the specific areas that cause the pain, these procedures can often dramatically reduce your pain levels for an extended period. However, they will likely need to be repeated now and then to maintain their effects.
There is a strong link between the mind and body, and retraining the mind to accept chronic pain can help to lessen its intensity. Relaxation training, hypnotherapy, and biofeedback are just a few of the ways that you can help your mind cope better with your new reality.
In addition, many people respond to pain with fear and avoidance. Yet these responses can actually worsen your pain levels. Traditional forms of psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or acceptance and commitment therapy, can help reduce your maladaptive responses. They can help you overcome the depression and anxiety that often accompany chronic pain, setting the stage for the best possible healing.
Integrative health solutions
Many people find some relief from chronic pain through integrative or complementary health solutions. These may include everything from yoga to mindfulness meditation to acupuncture. Alone, these therapies are unlikely to impact your chronic pain condition significantly. But taken in tandem with more traditional therapeutic options, they can provide powerful benefits for your body, mind, and spirit.
Putting it All Together
There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to managing chronic pain. Every instance of chronic pain is unique in its cause, severity, and effects on daily life. The goal should always be to reduce the risk of developing chronic pain by living a healthy lifestyle and always taking injuries seriously. But many causes of chronic pain are outside of our control. If you do develop it, the first step is to work with your doctor to be sure that the underlying cause is being treated as well as possible. Once the root condition is under control, it’s time to start working through your options for chronic pain management.
In most cases, this will take a lot of trial and error. What works well for one person may do little for another, even if the two have similar diagnoses. You’ll need a medical team you can trust. Your team should include, at minimum, a general practitioner, a specialist in your condition, and a physical therapist. Be sure to get medical clearance from your team before trying any new therapies, but feel free to experiment, with their blessing. You’ll need to learn to advocate for yourself and be proactive, but with some time and hard work, most chronic pain patients can find a combination of techniques that keep the pain to a minimum and allow them to live a reasonably active life.