By: Wyatt Redd
Chronic pain disorder is a term you might not have heard before. But odds are pretty good that it has touched your life or the life of someone you know. In fact, it’s estimated by the NIH that some 50 million people in America live with severe and chronic pain. That means that for every six people in the country, one of them has pain that is significant enough to impact their life and has lasted for more than three months.
But what is chronic pain disorder really? How is it treated? And how can you live with it?
What Is Chronic Pain Disorder?
Medicine makes a distinction between pain that is acute and pain that is chronic. Acute pain is pain that comes after something like a broken arm. It is sharp and short-lived, usually over within a few days at the most. Meanwhile, chronic pain is pain that lasts for months or even years.
Chronic pain is usually caused by a neuropathic condition where the pain originates in the brain, though injuries like car accidents can also lead to long-term and difficult to treat pain. In cases where the pain is chronic and lasts more than 3 months, doctors will use the term “chronic pain disorder” to reflect the fact that the patient is affected by a condition resulting in long-term and incurable pain.
There are a wide variety of conditions that fall under the larger umbrella of chronic pain disorder, which means that any condition which causes long term pain can be considered part of a chronic pain disorder.
How Is It Treated?
Chronic pain is difficult to treat, which is obvious given the fact that the definition of chronic pain is that it lasts for a long time. This is mostly due to the fact that we just don’t really know how to treat pain. You would think that given the fact that pain is one of the most basic elements of disease, we would have found a good way to handle it.
But the reality is that we haven’t found a good way to shut off the pain. The closest we have come so far is opioid analgesics. And these have their own risks.
In fact, our over-reliance on opioids has created a public health crisis in the country. The CDC estimates that close to 1,000 people are treated every day for an overdose of prescription opioids. And tens of thousands of people die every year after taking too much of a painkiller prescribed by a doctor.
And chronic pain disorder plays a significant role in the issue. When someone with chronic pain comes to a doctor, the doctor is faced with a tough choice: do they prescribe painkillers which the patient may possibly become dependent on or abuse, or do they allow the patient to continue suffering without a good way to treat their pain?
The patient often suffers either way, since the pills they need are often hard to get prescribed for the reasons we mentioned previously. Often, this leaves patients seeking alternative methods of managing their chronic pain disorder.
How Can You Live With Chronic Pain Disorder?
Opioids are often the only effective way to handle pain, but they aren’t a good way to manage pain in the long run. Patients quickly build up a tolerance to opioids, which means they require larger and larger doses to get the same effect. But this also makes the patient more likely to become physically dependent. And opioid withdrawal is usually extremely unpleasant and sometimes fatal.
But there are few things that can effectively relieve pain without these side effects. But one of the best things you can do to manage chronic pain is making lifestyle changes. Maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, and avoiding smoking or alcohol are all shown to help manage long term pain.
And while those may seem like obvious changes, they can have a serious impact on your quality of life if you can stick with them. And finally, things like meditation and mindfulness exercises have even been shown to improve the outcome of chronic pain disorder patients.
So while there isn’t much you can do to truly treat chronic pain disorders, you can learn to manage them a bit better. However, it’s important to temper your expectations. Once you’re diagnosed with a condition that will result in life-long pain, you will probably never live the way you used to. And while you never get used to chronic pain, you can accept it and learn, if not with, then in spite of it.
And until medical science advances further, that is the best we can hope for. But you tell us, what is living with chronic pain like for you? Tell us in the comments.