Chronic pain is a debilitating fact of life for millions of Australians. Almost 1 in 5 Australians over 45 years old have chronic pain and the proportion increases to 1 in 4 for those aged 85 and over. Finding relief from chronic pain allows a person to lead a more enjoyable and productive life.
One is considered to have pain when it has been present for 3 months or more. The pain can be mild or severe, but it occurs most days. Pain that isn’t treated can be chronic compared to pain that is treated.
Defining Persistent Pain
Persistent pain, often referred to as chronic pain, is a persistent type of discomfort that lingers well beyond the expected period of recovery from an illness or injury. Unlike acute pain, which serves as a warning system for the body, persistent pain often seems to have no clear purpose and can last for months, or even years.
Causes of Chronic Pain
People suffer from chronic pain for a variety of reasons.
Some of the most common causes of chronic pain include:
Side Effects of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain may not be the only challenge a person suffers. Debilitating and long-term pain can impact every part of a person’s life.
Poor mental health and depression are common in people suffering from chronic pain. Dealing with ongoing pain is exhausting; a person with pain may need to spend far more time at home, and the lack of social activity can lead to isolation, which can be associated with depression.
Pain and medication can increase the risk of anxiety for some. For others, this can turn into feeling anxious about leaving the safety of home where they spend much of their time. As the months and years of chronic pain roll on, the greater the risk of mental health disorders. This can turn into a vicious circle of pain aggravating the depression and the depression highly impacting the chronic pain symptoms.
Losing friendships and relationships is common when a person suffers from chronic pain. Friends and partners may find a person isn’t "as fun" to go out with anymore. Self-esteem often takes a battering with chronic pain, and they may struggle with relationship connections. Partners and children can get tired of dealing with their partner/parents’ ailments, and they may not be able to enjoy social outings or holidays that they once did, causing relationships suffer.
A person suffering from chronic pain may have the added pressure of money worries. They may only be able to work part-time hours or not at all due to their conditions. Relying on casual work means they may not get paid when taking time off work.
People with chronic pain may have some of their medical expenses covered by Medicare but it isn't surprising to see people spending thousands of dollars out of pocket every year seeking medical or alternative therapies to gain relief.
Not being able to go out and enjoy life as you once did can be frustrating. Relying on other people to do chores like cleaning and gardening can also lead to frustration. Some people feel they aren’t contributing to society as much as they would like, and if they can’t work and socialising options are limited, their sense of self-worth can take a hit.
People struggling with chronic pain often suffer from sleep problems. A lack of sleep can often exacerbate pain, and poor sleep can also contribute to a higher risk of injury and illness, which is why it’s important to attempt to get a good 7-8 hours of sleep daily.
Managing Chronic Pain
Dealing with long-term chronic pain is challenging. For some, the only option is strong ongoing medications, while others prefer to live with chronic pain to avoid medication.
While playing sports or exercising, our brain releases endorphins which act as a natural sedative. The effect can last several hours after exercising which can help reduce or eliminate the pain.
Weight-bearing exercise may not be suitable for people with chronic pain, but swimming or water aerobics can have less strain on injured parts of the body. Being physically active can have the added benefit of strengthening muscles and tendons that have been injured. People with lower back pain often benefit from exercise because their back muscles take more of the load than the spine.
Mindfulness meditation, tai chi, hypnosis, and yoga encourage getting to know your pain and gain control over your body’s response. This has been known to significantly help with pain management.
Pain Management Clinic
Some people seek relief from a dedicated pain relief clinic. A Pain Management Clinic is a specialised healthcare facility that focuses on the diagnosis and management of chronic pain. Imagine it as a lighthouse, guiding those lost in the fog of persistent discomfort towards a clearer, more manageable life. Speak to your GP for a referral to a pain management clinic.
Strong medications can be the most effective way of coping with chronic pain for some people. Opioid pain relief medication such as morphine can help some people get out of bed each day and go on with daily life.
The crucial note is knowing that opioid medications can only be used short-term. Opioid medications can cause addiction and have a risk of fatal accidental overdose, breathing problems, and tolerance. Ironically, using opioids long-term can cause opioid-induced hyperalgesia. Opioids are not effective against pain caused by cancer.
Please seek professional advice from your GP or health professional before using any medications.
Keeping Socially Active
Understandably, people who are dealing with chronic pain often become socially isolated. If they can’t work, they lose contact with colleagues and may not be required at the workplace every day.
People with chronic pain should look into social activities they can do within their physical limitations. Finding a hobby or groups of people with shared interests can be challenging but worthwhile. Having a purpose to leave the house can improve mental health and give you something to look forward to each week.
Chronic pain doesn’t just impact the ability to go to work but can dramatically affect a person’s social life. When a person has chronic pain, leaving the house to meet with friends or family can be exhausting. Making plans is difficult because they don’t know if they will have a good or bad day. Meeting friends and family outside their homes can be challenging with mobility issues. But despite all the possible limitations, taking one step further and committing to one small action can make someone's quality of life a little better.
Seeking Professional Health
It’s common to give up looking for a solution to chronic pain. You may have spent thousands of dollars and hours of research and appointments trying alternatives and found nothing works.
Some professionals specialise in treating chronic pain with traditional and alternative treatment methods. You may not have tried a particular treatment in the past or have not tried the right combination of treatments.
A professional exercise physiologist may be able to work with you to gain some relief from the pain. For some patients improving their mental health can be the first step in regaining their physical health. Seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist can help overcome depression or low moods to be in a better head space, and be more inclined to work on finding treatment for the physical pain. A physio or chiro can work with a patient to improve strength and flexibility, which can help with certain forms of chronic pain.
The first step is to find a health professional that understands your problem and can work with you towards gaining relief, however minor it may be. Regaining quality of life is worth it, no matter how long it takes.
From lifestyle adjustments to therapeutic approaches, join us as we uncover valuable insights for you to feel empowered to better manage chronic pain. Be mindful of seeking professional help when the pain reaches an unmanageable point. Speak to your GP and take a look at our HIF health insurance extras policies - these can give you a hand when seeking certain specialists.