Unfortunately, millions of people experience chronic pain. From a scientific perspective, chronic pain is defined as any type of pain that lasts for a minimum of three months. From the perspective of the man or woman in the street, it’s any type of pain that just won’t quit.
But no matter how you define it, those who suffer from chronic pain need an effective way to treat it. Comprehensive pain management (CPM) specialists are the ones who can help with that.
Whereas in the past CPM consisted of little more than prescription painkillers today there are numerous leading-edge therapeutic modalities designed to diagnose and treat both the source of the chronic pain and its symptoms.
But exactly what are those CPM treatment options and are they effective? That’s what we’re going to find out below.
What do You Mean by Comprehensive Pain Management?
When the average person pulls a muscle during a workout or otherwise injures themselves during the course of their day, they’ll take NSAIDs or acetaminophen to reduce inflammation and alleviate the pain.
If they take care of themselves and avoid aggravating the injury, the pain will subside in a few days and they can get on with their lives.
Chronic pain, however, is a whole different animal. It’s not typically the result of falling off your bike or walking into an open drawer on your desk. More often it’s the result of the improper lifting of a heavyweight, a car accident, surgery, cancer or perhaps rheumatoid arthritis.
The resulting pain is unrelenting and intense and is not going to respond to typical over-the-counter medications. What’s needed is a comprehensive pain management strategy that may include everything from prescription medications and physical therapy to steroid injections or even spinal cord stimulation therapy.
What are the Possible Causes of Pain?
Chronic pain that requires a comprehensive management strategy can be the result of:
- Lifting with your back instead of your legs – Few acts are responsible for more back injuries and more back pain than the habit of bending over and lifting with the back.
- Surgery – Sometimes surgery may inadvertently result in damage to the muscles, tendons, bones or vital organs.
- Arthritis – All forms of arthritis are painful to some extent, but rheumatoid arthritis can be particularly painful and does not always respond to medications.
- Cancer – A tumor may be pressing on a nerve causing constant pain. Or, if cancer spreads to the bones, it can become very painful.
Some other potential wellsprings for chronic pain include:
- The shoes you wear – High heels or shoes that bind your feet in any way or which provide inadequate support can result in joint and back pain.
- A lifetime of poor posture – Constantly sitting hunched over can cause the gradual onset of back pain that becomes progressively worse.
- Joint strain caused by obesity – Our joints were designed by nature to accommodate an average weight. Not two or three times our average body weight.
- A too-soft or too-hard mattress – A mattress that’s too soft or too hard can create back problems that linger for years.
- Back problems such as bulging discs – Bulging discs may be caused by repeated microtraumas or by singular events such as sports injuries or car accidents.
What’s the Best Way to Manage Pain?
The best way to manage pain depends entirely on the type of pain and its cause. It would be nice if there were a one-size-fits-all way to treat pain. Unfortunately, appropriate treatment can only be determined on a case by case basis.
“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”—Buddhist proverb
Different Kinds and Levels of Pain
There are, unfortunately, many different kinds of pain that occupy many different levels of experience. Here are five different classifications of pain recognized by medical science:
- Acute pain – Acute pain is that which comes on quickly and usually responds to over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Acute pain doesn’t last more than a few days in most cases. Headaches, a stiff neck, a bruise or a mild ankle twist all produce acute pain that may be intense at the onset but will typically dissipate over the course of a day or several days at most.
Acute pain is the most common type of pain. Almost everyone experiences some form of acute pain on a fairly regular basis. Which is why OTC meds like Tylenol are so popular.
- Chronic pain – Chronic pain is typically resistant to OTC meds and can last anywhere from a few months to years. There are a number of things that can cause chronic pain such as cancer, different forms of arthritis (particularly rheumatoid arthritis), a traumatic accident, and nerve damage are some of the potential causes of chronic pain.
Those who experience chronic pain often need to seek out the services of a CPM specialist who will work with them to reduce the amount of pain and provide the tools for dealing with what remains.
- Pain from tissue damage – This type of pain is the result of damage to the body’s soft tissue, bones or organs. The damage may be the result of disease or it might result from a broken bone or some type of work accident, like a cut or a fall.
This type of pain may feel like it’s throbbing or it might feel like you’re being stabbed. Sometimes it’s constant and in other cases, it comes and goes. This type of pain often responds to medication and therapy. Although if there was nerve damage during the accident, it may morph into chronic pain. Which leads us to our next category…
- Pain from nerve damage – This is a particularly vexing type of pain because, unlike pain from a broken arm, you can’t see the source of the pain and can’t measure the progress you’re making toward healing. Nerve damage resulting in pain may result from an accident or it may result from a disease like diabetes.
Chemotherapy drugs have also been known to cause nerve damage and spinal cord injuries and conditions like spinal stenosis are a major source of nerve-related, chronic pain.
- Pain-related to disease – Many types of diseases are not only emotionally and physically unsettling; they’re also often accompanied by intense pain. Cancer can be a very painful experience, especially if it spreads to the bones.
Rheumatoid arthritis, where the immune system turns on the body and attacks healthy bone tissue, is another extremely painful disease. Many who suffer from Parkinson’s Disease also complain of various types of chronic pain. Although pinpointing the exact source in such cases can be extremely difficult.
What are some Common Ways to Manage Pain?
Common ways to manage pain include OTC medications and other methods, including:
- NSAIDs – Short for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, this type of over-the-counter pain medication addresses the inflammation that is part of the body’s natural response to injury, inflection or other trauma. By reducing inflammation, soreness and pain are also reduced.
- Physical therapy – Often, pain is the result of an injury and can be alleviated by having a physical therapist address the damaged tissue with massage, stretching and other minimally invasive techniques. Athletes often undergo physical therapy to lessen pain and facilitate the healing process.
- Acupuncture – It’s only been in the past few decades that Westerners have opened their minds to the many benefits of this traditional Chinese pain management technique. Acupuncture works by prompting the body to release endorphins. These endorphins then block pain messages from being sent to the brain.
- Psychological counseling – Often times, counseling can prove a valuable weapon in the treatment of chronic pain. Experienced counselors can provide perspective, insight, and effective techniques for dealing with pain that calm the mind and allow you to engage more fully with life.
- Opioids – In 2017, a national opioid crisis was declared due to the widespread abuse of painkillers such as Oxycontin, Percocet, and Vicodin. Nonetheless, when administered properly, these medications still serve an important role in pain reduction and management.
Nerve blocks and epidural steroids are treatments that, like opioids, should only be considered in extreme circumstances where more traditional methods of relief have failed.
Comprehensive pain management is a field that is still growing and evolving. As new treatment modes become available, they are being integrated into pain management regimes with increasing effectiveness.
As a result, the days of having to simply “grin and bear it” are thankfully behind us. If you are experiencing unremitting pain, there’s no reason to simply accept it as your fate. Contact a Comprehensive Pain Management Specialist today and start down the road to recovery.