Studies carried out by the National Institute for Health report that around 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain of some kind, and women are more likely to suffer from this debilitating problem than men. The reasons why chronic pain sufferers are more women than men aren’t clear. But this statistic represents a significant public health problem that seems to be on the rise. It can be hard to find effective therapy or even a firm diagnosis in many cases. Chronic pain goes hand in hand with depression too, which makes coping with your problem that much harder. What are your options when it comes to managing the pain and leading a more comfortable life?
What is chronic pain?
In simple terms, it is any pain that lasts beyond the time when it performs a useful function. It’s then the main problem rather than a symptom. There are many possible causes of chronic pain, which can make it hard to get to the root of the problem. Your doctor will probably need to run a series of tests and examinations to find the cause. It’s important to eliminate potential causes like cancer and organ diseases that need prompt treatment.
Chronic pain can be a severe side effect of some life-threatening illnesses, but for most sufferers the causes are benign. Although it can be a relief to know you don’t have a serious health issue like cancer, it doesn’t reduce your discomfort. Many disorders, including autoimmune conditions, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis have no cure, so this diagnosis can feel like a life sentence.
The first step to receiving effective treatment, such as physical therapy, is an accurate diagnosis. This can be a time-consuming process in many cases, but getting to the bottom of why you experience continual pain will clarify the available treatment options.
Your doctor should be your first call, but there are also specialist pain clinics that offer an enhanced range of diagnostic testing and cutting-edge treatment options. The way you look after yourself and manage your pain can also significantly affect how well you cope and your degree of discomfort.
Analgesic drugs are often the first step in treating chronic pain. But while makes sense for providing almost instant relief from the symptoms, it doesn’t answer the problem. Painkillers only mask the pain sensations. They don’t address the cause of the pain, so they must be taken long-term to keep working. Therefore, you may have problems with side effects from the medication.
You might even find you need to increase the dose over time as your body gets used to the drugs. Opioid painkillers are often the most effective for chronic pain, but there is a severe problem with opioid abuse across the United States that makes doctors more reluctant to prescribe them. For all these reasons, it’s advisable to look for other therapies to help.
There are a range of treatments available to help address the causes of chronic pain, including:
- Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections. The healing platelets from your own blood are extracted and then injected into the painful area. The goal is to promote the healing and regeneration of damaged tissues.
- Stem cell therapy. It has the same kind of process as PRP but uses stem cells from either your own body or donated placental tissue harvested after healthy births.
- A nerve-blocking injection that prevents pain signals from reaching the brain.
- Injections of natural compounds to promote healing and tissue regeneration in chronic pain sufferers.
You might feel like moving around is the last thing you want to do. But exercise is actually one of your most important and effective treatment options. That doesn’t mean you have to go for a run around the block or start doing circuits at the gym though. Most chronic pain sufferers would feel ill at the thought of such intensive physical activity.
Regular, gentle exercise such as yoga, Pilates, Thai Chi, swimming, or using equipment like toning tables are all ideal ways to keep your body moving in a way that can ease your pain without making you feel worse. You can start off with the gentlest of routines, and build up your strength, stamina, and flexibility over time. It’s vital to keep your body supple and help your muscles to stay strong. Work on maintaining a relaxed and correct posture to give yourself the best chance of avoiding worsening your symptoms.
Alternative therapies for chronic pain sufferers
If you wish to try an alternative therapy, there are several available. Many chronic pain sufferers swear by the effects of marijuana, either smoked or used as CBD oil. The laws on personal and medical uses of marijuana are in flux across the U.S., so check and see what laws apply in your state or other country where you live.
It’s a good idea to find out as much as you can on the analgesic properties of different cannabis strains, and the difference between inhaling, ingesting or using an oil before talking to your doctor. Homeopathy is a popular choice. But bear in mind that there is very little sound scientific evidence to support its efficacy. Having said that, if a treatment helps you, does it really matter if it’s the therapy or the placebo effect, as long as you improve? Acupuncture has a more solid evidence base, and if you’re worried that you’ll feel the needles and it will make the pain worse, rest assured that when done by a qualified practitioner it’s virtually painless.
Your experience of chronic pain will be unique to you. We all feel pain in different ways and to varying degrees. If chronic pain is blighting your life, follow a program of self-care and keep pursuing possible treatments until you find one that works for you.