Did you know that ignoring those niggles could be doing you harm?! This week, we debunk some of the most common myths and misunderstandings around chronic pain.
“1 in 5 Australians are living with chronic pain”.
So what is pain? Pain is your body’s way of warning you against sickness or injury. This leads people to take action! But pain is not just a physical sensation. It is influenced by attitudes, beliefs, personality and social factors, and can affect emotional and mental wellbeing. This means that although two people may have the same pain condition, their experience of living with pain can be vastly different—if you live with pain, you would already know this. As pain is very subjective, it is then vert hard to measure (or quantify!).
Pain can be split into 3 main categories: acute, chronic and cancer pain.
- Acute pain lasts for a short time and occurs following surgery or trauma or other condition. It acts as a warning to the body to seek help. Although it usually improves as the body heals, in some cases, it may not. Good examples of acute pain is an ankle sprain, a muscle strain, or a sudden onset of lower back pain. Acute pain usually resolves within 3 months of onset.
- Chronic pain lasts beyond the time expected for healing following surgery, trauma or other condition (usually 3 months or longer). It can also exist without a clear reason at all. Although chronic pain can be a symptom of other disease, it can also be a disease in its own right, characterised by changes within the central nervous system. Conditions such as migraine, osteoporosis, arthritis and other musculoskeletal ailments are well recognised chronic diseases.
- Cancer pain can occur in patients with early stage and advanced disease, and in cancer survivors as a severe and debilitating side-effect of treatment.
So how do you end up with chronic pain? Acute pain can transition into chronic pain if it is untreated or poorly treated, which we find often happens when people are too busy to get their pain looked at, or don’t think they can be treated. Without going into the nitty gritty of the neurophysiology, chronic pain happens when neuroplastic changes occur within the nervous system (brain and spinal cord), which make the body more sensitive to pain and can create sensations of pain even without external pain stimuli. For example, people can feel pain from a breeze or clothes touching their skin. This is called pain sensitisation.
The trouble with chronic pain is it is no longer a direct link between pain and the actual tissues involved. Eg whilst someone with chronic lower back pain may feel pain in their back, there is often no longer anything wrong with the joints/muscles/tissues of the back – the pain is now interpreted by the spinal cord and brain.
The longer any pain remains untreated, the greater the risk of the body becoming sensitised to pain, and the pain becoming chronic. Therefore, it is essential to get timely and effective treatment of acute pain to prevent transition to chronic pain!
Want to understand pain and what to do about it in less than 5 minutes? Watch this video here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=17&v=RWMKucuejIs)