Acute (or short-term) pain is a normal function of our nervous system, meant to let us know that something is wrong and to hopefully encourage us to fix the problem. Chronic pain is pain that stays for the long term. Even though it is very common – one in five Australians live with chronic pain – people who have this condition can feel isolated and misunderstood. Here are three areas of life with chronic pain that we should talk about.
Sometimes, acute pain can turn chronic
Some conditions have chronic pain as a common symptom; for example, osteoporosis, arthritis, and migraines. Pain as the result of an injury or condition that lasts beyond the expected healing time can also become chronic (or on-going). For example, if a person had surgery, they would expect to feel some pain afterwards until the wound healed. However, if the wound had completely healed but the patient still had pain, it has become chronic. Often, delayed or incorrect treatment is the reason acute pain becomes chronic.
People can feel pain even when there is no physical damage
Pain is a signal that is sent from the nervous system and interpreted by the brain. In some conditions such as nerve disorders, there is no physical damage that is causing the pain. If acute pain is not correctly treated, the body can modify its nervous system to continue to send pain signals – even when the original problem is no longer there.
Not only can a person with chronic pain feel the same pain sensation as someone with physical damage, it can be much harder to treat because the issue can be with the nerve signals instead of a result of a treatable injury.
Chronic pain often comes with social and mental issues
Because pain is not visible or measurable by other people, a person with chronic pain can feel misunderstood and unsupported by not only the people around them, but even by some medical professionals. Mental health issues are common in people with chronic pain. The rates of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and substance abuse are much higher than in the general population.
Imagine being in pain every day. Maybe it’s worse on some days than others. When you first talk about your pain, people are sympathetic and understanding. As the months stretch on, some friends, family and co-workers begin to lose interest or become frustrated with your inability to resume your normal activities. Many people bear the pain silently, or isolate themselves as a result.
Where someone has pain, it is very important that a pain management plan is developed as soon as possible. If you have experienced acute pain, stay in contact with your GP if you feel the pain is not resolving as quickly as expected. If you suffer from chronic pain, find a GP that will commit to working with you long-term to manage your symptoms. Pain is a serious condition that deserves to be prioritised, and there are many options available to help you manage symptoms.