What is Chronic Pain. What You Need to Know

Chronic pain is persistent pain that lasts for 6 months or longer.  The pain signals can remain active in the nervous system for months or even years, and take a physical and emotional toll on a patient over time.  Chronic pain can be mild or excruciating, episodic, continuous, inconvenient or incapacitating.  It can occur in the back, neck, head, joint(s), legs, feet, arms, and hand.  Psychological factors can increase the perception of pain and often include anxiety, brain fog, frustration, exhaustion, and depression. 

Conditions

Chronic pain is caused by many different factors that include aging of the bones, joints, nerve damage, or diseases like arthritis and fibromyalgia.  Some conditions like chronic lower back pain can include a combination of factors that are made worse by poor posture, being overweight, or wearing high heels.

Treatments

There are several treatments for patients to choose from based on their pain severity, duration, and condition.  We list the major treatment categories for chronic pain management.  Please consult with your primary care physician or pain specialist to determine which treatment is right for you.

Wellness

Patients can help reduce their chronic pain by spending a few minutes on physical and mindful activities every day.

Physical Activities

Stretching, walking, and exercise can help improve flexibility and physical function, manage body weight, and reduce stress and deterioration of the spine, joints, and vital organs.  Good posture and workplace ergonomics (varying sitting & standing) can also help reduce stress on damaged tissue or joints, and provide pain relief.

Healthy Activities

Smoking can dehydrate spine discs increasing the likelihood of degeneration or herniation.  A healthy diet balanced with exercise can help reduce body weight, alleviating stress on the spine discs and joints.

Relaxation and Stress Management

Pursuing enjoyable activities, verbalizing frustrations, and getting ample sleep can improve mental health and reduce the perception of pain.  Deep breathing, meditation, yoga, rhythmic exercise, and other activities have provided pain relief for some patients.

Alternative Care

Alternative pain treatments can help provide relief for specific conditions like osteoarthritis and headaches.  Some alternative treatments include acupuncture, marijuana, chiropractic manipulation, meditation, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Topical Pain Relief

Topical pain relievers are sprayed or rubbed into the skin over painful muscles or joints, and come in a variety of forms like creams, rubs, sprays, and packs.

Therapies

Non-medical therapies can provide pain relief for the back, neck, and limbs and include nerve stimulation (TENS), physical, cognitive behavioral, and talk therapies.

Medication

There are different over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription pain medications that are specialized for specific conditions and include pain relievers (analgesics), anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen), opioids (Oxycodone), anticonvulsants (Gabapentin), muscle relaxers (Soma), and antidepressants (Amitriptyline).  Medications above are options and not intended to be a holistic list.

Injections

Anesthesiologists, neurologists, or physiatrists can relieve pain and inflammation by injecting steroids and numbing medicine into the back, neck and joints.

Procedures

Radiofrequency ablation and spinal cord stimulation are medical procedures performed by pain management doctors to help relieve chronic nerve (neuropathic) pain.  These minimally invasive procedures are considered when other more conservative treatment options listed above have not provided adequate relief.

Back or Neck Surgery

Orthopedic surgeons can decompress a nerve root or the spinal cord (laminectomy), stabilize segment(s) of the vertebra (fusion), or reduce a deformity (scoliosis) if conservative treatments (nonsurgical) fail to reduce a patient’s chronic pain.

Learn More:
Mayo Clinic
Spine Health.