Is there an end in sight?
Many back pain sufferers’ deal with chronic pain on a daily basis. Chronic pain differs from acute pain in that acute pain suddenly starts and then subsides at some point, whereas chronic pain keep going, and going, and going. No complete relief is usually gained by those that have conditions that cause chronic pain, not only by the person with the pain, but those persons involved in the pain sufferer’s life continue to experience the effects the pain has on the sufferer. For example, statistical evidence exists demonstrating the link between chronic pain and poor work performance. Often, the chronic pain sufferer receives little emotional support from family, friends, co-workers and health professionals, leading to the proverbial “downward spiral” in quality of life, interest in social activities and thusly, the person with pain does poorly at work and has increased absences, leave periods and may often become unemployed.
Back in the dark ages (oh, about 10 years ago), pain was considered by medical professionals and laypersons to be subjective, and was looked upon as something that could be overcome with a strong mental attitude. Those that asked for medications to help quell the pain were labeled as “weak” or worse yet, “drug seekers.” Thanks to loads of recent research, this attitude MAY be changing, and there may be a some light of hope appearing for those that suffer with chronic pain (Although, I must admit that my experience here in the Boston area has been nothing short of archaic. More on that later.) . This article published by News-Medical.net, outlines several reasons why some people experience chronic pain, and others do not. For example, peripheral nerves may be damaged, accompanied by inflammation. As time progresses, the body may get used to receiving pain signals from the damaged area and establishes a pattern of relaying pain information to the spinal cord and brain from that site, even when the inflammation may have subsided. This theory has lead to new treatment strategies, such as treating the initial injury site with anti-inflammatories immediately after the insult. And yes, there may be an emotional component for some pain, and this has been recognized and addressed by the manufacturers of Cymbalta, which has been FDA approved for the treatment of certain types of chronic pain.
Also, mainstream (i.e., “western”) medicine is finally seeing the benefits of complementary or alternative pain management approaches. Recent studies outlined in this Forbes article have demonstrated that a combination of mainstream medical treatments combined with alternative approaches provide pain relief greater than either tactic alone. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing has shown that music can help relieve the perception of chronic pain – relief may be just a CD or MP4 away!
Women, unfortunately, seem to receive the short end of the stick when it comes to healing from injuries. This study reports that women suffer most often from residual pain conditions such as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). These conditions occur when nerves send incessant pain signals to the brain from the site of injury. It is not clear why women suffer more often from these conditions than men. Combinations of alternative and mainstream approaches seen to work best for these conditions.
Public and professional awareness of chronic pain is the key to making the lives better for everyone – the pain sufferer, their friends and family, their co-workers and supervisors, and their medical professionals. The American Pain Foundation (http://www.painfoundation.org/) is working diligently to lobby for those of us suffering from all types of chronic pain. Please check out their website for more information on a variety of topics, form the latest research to what you can do to help spread awareness about chronic pain. When our voices are heard, the “dark ages” will cease to exist!
(originally written October 2008)