Living with – and safely treating – chronic pain

ChronicPainSometimes we blame it on age, a friendly basketball game that got a little too competitive or simply just not being in great physical condition, but just about everyone feels a little pain now and then. But what about when the pain doesn’t go away even after the injury heals? September is Pain Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to understand what chronic pain is, how it can interfere with daily life, and the safest ways to treat and manage chronic pain.

What is chronic pain? 

Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong, and chronic pain is a pain that continues a month or more beyond the usual recovery period for an injury or illness or that goes on for months or years due to a chronic condition. It’s usually not constant but can interfere with daily life at all levels. Most doctors define chronic pain as any pain that lasts three to six months or more.

But sometimes, especially as we get older, don’t we just have to learn to live with the pain?

You’ve maybe been told – or you’ve even told someone – that the pain is all in their head, because there may not be obvious signs of injury, trauma or illness. At times, it can be difficult to pin down a specific physical cause for the pain, or even adequately describe it to a health care provider or family member. But there are doctors who specialize in pain management and treatment. In some cases, while they may not be able to offer a cure, they can help to improve your quality of life and address the mental toll that chronic pain brings, such as trouble sleeping, feeling tired all the time, mood changes and lack of energy. Remember, when we feel any pain, it is experienced in both our bodies and our minds.

What about painkillers? We’ve been seeing a lot of news lately about the painkiller addiction and overdose epidemic in the country, should people avoid taking pain medication?

There’s a difference between physical dependence on pain medication and addiction. Physical dependence means your body needs the medication and you have symptoms when you don’t take it. Addiction means you crave the medication, you take it even when you don’t need it and the medication becomes the most important thing in your life. Addiction leads to self-destructive behavior.

What are some of the signs of possible addiction to pain medication?

If you think that you might be taking a pain medication that you do not need for pain, talk to your doctor about safely reducing the dose. If you become preoccupied with the medication, thinking about how soon you can take more or worrying excessively that you might run out, that can be a warning sign to talk to a health care professional about changing your treatment.

A Closer Look at Your Health airs weekly on Tuesdays at 6:50 a.m. on KBOI 670 Newsradio in Boise; this is the transcript from the Sept. 26, 2017 program.

Resources:

Infographic: What is chronic pain?

Idaho’s Response to the Opioid Crisis

National Institutes of Health Pain Consortium

American Chronic Pain Association

CDC’s Prescription Opioid Basics

1 thought on “Living with – and safely treating – chronic pain

  1. I’ve been living with chronic nerve pain, degenerative disc disease for 13 years and rheumatoid arthritis for 15 years. Before being treated by a pain management specialist in Meridian, ID, the pain was unbearable and I wasn’t able to function properly and spent the majority of my days lying in my bed crying because the pain in my lower back down both of my legs was constant burning pain and the joint pain from the rheumatoid arthritis was so painful as well. I’ve seen other specialists and was told that there was nothing that could be done for me, that I’d eventually end up using a wheelchair and having surgery in my back would only make the pain worse. According to the MRI there’s two places where the discs are pinching the nerves. It took me awhile to get treatment because I didn’t want to have to take pain medication but I couldn’t bear the pain any longer and it was difficult for me to sit, stand and walk. I met with the pain management specialist and began my treatment being prescribed the fentanyl patches and hydrocodone with apap starting out with the lowest dosages until I was finally able to function at 75 mcg eventually using 100 mcg and taking hydrocodone with apap for the break through pain. This has worked for me, I wasn’t completely pain free but it helped me so much. It’s truly unfortunate that people have overdosed on opioid prescription and full strength medication. But many of us patients feel that changing the federal guidelines is being done with no regard for those of us who’ve relied on these types of prescription medications to be able to function, it’s so unfair. I’ve never had any problems with my medications, signing the pain mgmt agreement from and have always complied with no problems. At my recent appointment this month my doctor explained that there were changes made to the federal guidelines for opioid pain medications and within three months my fentanyl transdermal patches be lowered to the lowest level of fentanyl patch of 25 mcg as well as the lowest amount of the pills. This has been so upsetting to me, the fentanyl patch of 75 mcg has already made the nerve pain worse in my lower back down the back of both of my legs down to my heels. Our small town is located 100 miles north and south of the towns and sits in the mountains at a higher elevation, which has a negative effect on my body, whenever it’s cloudy, snowing or raining, the humidity causes my joints to swell and the pain intensifies which includes the nerve pain in my lower back. The fentanyl patches of 25 mcg will definitely not be able to help me with this excruciating pain which is constant. I hope that those who are responsible for the changes of the federal guidelines for opioid pain medications will please keep us in mind and seriously consider allowing us to continue our treatment with our pain management specialists especially when we’ve always followed our doctors treatment plan for us, never abusing our prescribed medications. I greatly feel for the many patients who felt that they had no choice but to take their own lives too because they couldn’t tolerate the pain that they were forced to live with. I don’t think and feel that people are able to understand or relate to those of us who have to live with chronic nerve pain or chronic pain unless they themselves experience these types of diseases that causes high levels of pain. Having to go back to living with this pain is so frightening. It seems that we’re paying for other’s mistakes, please help us, if we haven’t abused or misused our medications then allow us to continue our chronic pain treatment especially when it helps us to be able to function properly in our daily lives.

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