What constitutes chronic pain?

Chronic pain is not just ‘part of getting older’ – it affects around eight million Australians of all ages. So, what exactly is it?

Woman suffering from chronic pain

This week is National Pain Week, an initiative to raise awareness about life with chronic pain – also known as the ‘invisible challenge’.

Chronic Pain Australia (CPA) estimates that around 8 million Australians silently endure constant pain, with almost 30 per cent of sufferers aged over 66. However, CPA says it is an ‘endemic’ that doesn’t discriminate, affecting both young and old – and according to the 2011 Pfizer Health Report on Chronic Pain, about 80 per cent are currently missing out on treatment. Why?

“The community’s understanding of and response to chronic pain is similar to where depression and other mental health conditions were 20 years ago," said CPA president Dr Coralie Wales.

“People who live with pain carry an extra burden. They are often stigmatised, isolated, suffer depression and feel others don’t understand their condition.”

So, what exactly is chronic pain? And what can you do about it?

What makes pain ‘chronic’?
Everyone experiences physical pain at some point in their lives, but most people would expect it to go away with time and treatment. ‘Acute’ pain is a short-term symptom that indicates damage or injury to the body; chronic pain lasts longer and usually reflects an overactive or sensitised nervous system, often triggered by some illness or trauma. This is where the problem becomes complex.

Chronic pain takes many forms – from back pain and migraines through to trauma from an injury, nerve damage or illnesses such as shingles and cancer. Pain also plays a large part in neurological, musculoskeletal and autoimmune conditions, such as fibromyalgia, lupus, MS and arthritis. There are many possible causes of long-term pain, but all require – and deserve – treatment to minimise the distress of sufferers and their families. When left unmanaged, chronic pain can be detrimental to both physical and mental health.

How is it treated?
Because pain perception is difficult to measure, and every person experiences it differently, there is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment. Management of chronic pain often requires a multi-faceted approach, which can include medicines, exercise, physical treatments, dietary changes, cognitive behavioural therapy and relaxation techniques.

However, if you are experiencing pain, the best place to start is with your doctor. CPA recommends taking a list of questions to ask your GP, such as:

  • What do you think is causing my pain?
  • What are my treatment choices? Are there any side effects?
  • Why should I have that test?
  • What can I do to help myself?
  • How regularly should I see you?
  • Who can I contact if I have questions?

You can visit National Pain Week for more information and resources.

Do you experience chronic pain? Have you found any strategies to manage your symptoms?

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    COMMENTS

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    Biddy
    26th Jul 2016
    10:32am
    I live with chronic pain day in day out but one has to get on with life otherwise you will give in,after 5back operations And a fall last year I now have more back problems and arthritis in the spine.I have never experienced pain so bad but I will not give in to it,I still clean our home,washing,ironing getting meals plus look after my husband and some tiles the pain is so bad I could scream,but no one will hear my screams of pain,I have 4 children married with families of their own and not living near me,I will not ask for help if I have to then they will be waiting a long time,I love them all dearly but they never offer so be it,I have to face physio and see another Neuro surgeon next week so until then I suffer in silence,if it means another operation then to get some quality of life I'm all for it ,it's so debilitating the pain first thing of a morning is cruel I'm 72 but cannot live a life of pain so hoping the surgeon or physio will have some answers I live in hope as chronic pain rules your very exsistance cheers
    Supernan
    26th Jul 2016
    12:34pm
    Any one with Rheumatoid Arthritis knows what chronic pain is !Then when you get flare ups, they also know what severe pain is !
    Young Simmo
    26th Jul 2016
    1:08pm
    My wife has had 3 Opp's over the last 10 years and is now at 75 worse off than when they first started. She has 6 screws and 2 plates in back. She has seen many pain specialists like a lot of other people we know and they don't do anything for her at all. If your car is broken you take it to a Mechanic and he fixes it. If you have a saw tooth you go to a Dentist and he fixes it. If you have pain you go to a "PAIN SPECIALIST" and nothing changes. What a thieving rip off. These pain specialists get flown up from Perth, Accommodated, Fed and Transported all at great expense and nothing changes in your pain and suffering. What a Conn.
    Star Trekker
    26th Jul 2016
    1:13pm
    My daughter who is 21 has suffered from chronic pain since she was in her mid-teens. She has been mis-diagnosed so many times, from Fibromyalgia to Chronic pain syndrome. She now has an answer. She has a rare genetic disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which one symptom is chronic pain. She has tried a Pain management program but that made her worse. Now she is waiting for her appointment with a pain specialist. Hopefully he can help with the managing of this cruel and insidious invisible disability.
    Young Simmo
    26th Jul 2016
    1:20pm
    Star Trekker, I wish your daughter all the good luck in the world but as you can see above I don't have much faith in Pain Specialists. In addition to my wife's experience, I went to a pain Specialist and he couldn't have cared less about my pain. All he wanted to do was stop my pain Medication, and stiff bickies with the pain. I wouldn't take my dog to him.
    Star Trekker
    26th Jul 2016
    1:44pm
    Young Simmo, the pain specialist in my local area is supposed to be very good. We will wait and see.
    Nan Norma
    26th Jul 2016
    3:46pm
    I really do feel pity for people with chronic pain. I once had severe pain for a week and I remember thinking if I had to put up with this as some people do, I'd commit suicide. I do hope something can be done to help you
    ROB
    26th Jul 2016
    4:38pm
    There will be some that respond to this in the negative because:
    1. They have already tried "Everything" with no success" or
    2. This is something they know nothing about so it must be a scam or
    3. Although they have never tried the product they consider it could not work therefore it must not work? or
    4. If something is being suggested here it must be a sales pitch?
    However, do find out all you can about PhotoTherapy patches, the drug free, chemical free way of easing even the severest chronic pain, often in minutes and allows for very fast healing of the body. These patches are now being used in hospitals in France and elsewhere about the world. The patches are low in cost, easy for anyone to use and have absolutely NO harmful side effects. The patches are already accepted by the medical authorities in over 100 countries including TGA in Australia.
    Young Simmo
    26th Jul 2016
    4:45pm
    ROB is that NORSPAN Patches you are referring to?
    Jennie
    26th Jul 2016
    11:12pm
    Are you referring to Lifewave phototherapy patches? It seems they are a placebo and work if you believe they will, like homeopathy.
    ROB
    26th Jul 2016
    5:00pm
    Young Simmo, NO. The patches are Non Transdermal, meaning NOTHING into the body and work on communicating directly with the body's energy system for a near immediate and powerful positive effect. We have personally assisted thousands of people in many countries with the patches and find they will still work extremely well if placed under or over clothing or even on a plaster cast
    ROB
    26th Jul 2016
    5:06pm
    They are favoured in hospitals and also in disaster situations with treating personnel because the patches are not only extremely effective but there are never problems with people (or animals) that could have an adverse effect with tradition drugs, chemicals, herbs, pain killers etc. ALL things to consider for people who have a bad reaction to traditional products
    Megsiemay
    27th Jul 2016
    12:13am
    I must have been very lucky, Young Simmo, as I suffer from the "nurses' curse". About 5-6 years ago, my back was SO bad that I was on a wheelie walker. Finally, someone had the sense to send me to a pain clinic in Brisbane run by a Dr Saul Geffin, a wonderful man who, together with his team got me back on my feet and life is liveable again. I am even back dancing - traditional Middle Eastern, Bollywood, Gypsy, Armenian, Zumba. I still need some pills but not the heavy duty ones that I was on before and I have learned to listen to my body - when I get sore, I sit for a bit before continuing with what I was doing. Exercise is part of the key - but initially should be done with an exercise physiologist. I still work with a trainer once a week who works in with my physio. I also have a therapeutic massage once a month (physio's idea but quite enjoyable!) I am so glad the neuro surgeon I saw refused to operate on my back - I was rather heavy and would have been an anaesthetic risk because of the positioning for that particular operation (I used to be a theatre nurse and had scrubbed for said operation). Part of Dr G's team was a psychiatrist - don't laugh - the depression which comes with chronic pain can be quite debilitating as well. I was at the "kill me or cure me" stage in my pleas to the Gods. When I moved on from the clinic, I thanked Dr G for what he had done to which he replied - 'no you did the work'. I do understand, having been down that path but there is light at the end of the tunnel - and it's not a train coming either!!
    Young Simmo
    27th Jul 2016
    12:26am
    Thanks for that Megsiemay, my probs are manageable, but Val's are a different kettle of fish. I'm taking her down to Perth in about 3 weeks to Charlie Gardiner for an assessment and hopefully a Super Dooper thing called a Spinal Stimulator, (40 Grand thankyou very much) installed into her back. Watch this space.
    Cheers......John.
    ROB
    27th Jul 2016
    12:23am
    For Jennie, please follow this link: http://lifewave.com/research.asp
    You will note these are not just the vague reports from people “feeling” the patches may do something but are quality Double Blind Placebo Controlled studies that will use a great many medical and other measuring devices to prove their effectiveness.
    Also note the quality of the medical people in charge of the studies – see Osteoarthritis Double-Blind Placebo Controlled LifeWave Med Pain Relief Study.
    It is such a pity in Australia that while so many people are not recognising something that is already proven of benefit, so many people who could likely be helped are left in doubt because of the criticism.
    We hope this may change some day, after all isn’t this the theme of this forum?
    Rob


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