Pain Management: What to Do When Pain Just Won’t Go Away

Chronic pain may be difficult to diagnose, but mainstream and complementary pain management can help overcome the condition.

pain management

Chronic pain should be treated by a team of professionals working together, not just one person.

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Chronic pain—a condition that exists when pain lasts three months or more—affects 25 to 30 percent of Americans. It is more common in older adults, men, and Caucasians. It is not life-threatening, but if not treated it can lead to permanent nerve damage.

Different Than Acute Pain

Acute pain might be caused by surgery, collisions, fractures, trauma, burns, cuts, internal disorders, muscle strains, sprained joints, and more. It ranges from mild to severe, from momentary to weeks or even months, and left untreated can lead to chronic pain. Below are six ways that distinguish acute pain from chronic pain.

Duration Hours or days 3+months
Cause Usually known Often unknown
Prognosis Predictable Unpredictable
Associated Illness Surgery, trauma Depression, anxiety
Social Consequences Few or more Isolation, dependence on others
Treatment Addresses the cause Multiple methods, pain control

Pain Comes in Many Forms

Lower back pain, arthritis, cancer, persistent pain after shingles, headaches, and fibromyalgia are among the more common chronic pain conditions. In one form or another, it is often influenced by lifestyle, inflammation, or ongoing pain signals.

Sometimes there is no clear identifiable cause for chronic pain. It’s just there, and it won’t go away. Chronic pain becomes a disease itself due to a combination of ongoing pain signals and changes in the way the body’s nervous system functions.

Pain Is Unique to Each Person

“Pain is a uniquely individual and subjective experience that depends on a variety of biological, psychological, and social factors, and different population groups experience pain differentially,” according to the National Academy of Medicine.

As a result, it is important to have a plan that works specifically for you, regardless of what might have been successful or unsuccessful for others. You can have the same health issue and same level of pain as another person, yet that person may completely and quickly recover, while your pain can be long-lasting and life-changing.

Pain Can Be Difficult to Diagnose

Nerve pain, also called neuropathic pain, remains after an original injury heals. It is thought to be related to nerve damage or a change in how the nervous system functions, and it may be difficult to diagnose.

Those who experience neuropathic pain use words like “burning,” “pin and needles,” “stabbing,” “numbness,” and “tingling” to describe the feeling.

The pain may be evoked by certain stimuli or by no apparent stimuli. Pain signals are repeated over long periods of time, and the nerve cells in the spinal cord become hypersensitive to the signals. The dysfunctional nerve cells—not the original injury—are the cause of neuropathic pain. What should have been a temporary condition becomes a long-lasting, permanent change in the nervous system.

Pain Management Options

There are multiple ways of treating chronic pain, including many that don’t involve medications. The table below shows examples of mainstream and complementary or integrative medicine. “Integrative” is a term used when complementary approaches are incorporated into mainstream, conventional care.

Pain medication Acupuncture
Heat, ice Biofeedback
Surgery Distraction (music, deep breathing, reading)
Neuromodulation* Dietary supplements
Osteopathic medicine Massage
Chiropractic care Medical marijuana
Cognitive behavioral therapy Platelet-rich plasma
Exercise Tai chi, yoga, pilates

*Changing nerve activity through electrical stimulation or chemical agents.

Treatment By a Team, Not One Person

Chronic pain should be treated by a team of professionals working together, not just one person. Your health care team might include any combination of physicians, physician assistants, therapists, pharmacists, psychologists, dietitians, friends, and family members, all led by you. You are the most important person on that team.

Patient Involvement Affects Outcomes

The success of treatment for chronic pain depends on the person. The longer you wait to get help, the more difficult treatment becomes. Passively waiting for a cure does not work. The more involved you are with your pain management team, the better the outcomes. Those who get better follow a plan and make good decisions regarding their healthcare team, medications, diet, exercise, and lifestyle.

Sources & Resources

For further reading, please visit these related posts:

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Jim Brown, PhD

As a former college professor of health education, Jim Brown brings a unique perspective to health and medical writing. He has authored 14 books on health, medicine, fitness, and sports. … Read More

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