What is chronic pain?
By Dr. Landon Agoado AP, (Lic. # AP1704) – Palm Beach Gardens Florida – Chronic pain may be defined as pain that lasts for a long period of time, usually 6 months or longer. Different researchers apply different markers for transition from acute pain to chronic pain. Some theorists claim that pain may be defined as being acute pain if it lasts more than three months since onset. Others set this time period at 6 months since onset, while others set chronic pain at 12 months. Some theorists do not place a fixed time period for chronic pain, choosing instead to define chronic pain as pain that lasts longer than the expected period of healing.
A significant population of people around the world suffers chronic pain, with epidemiological studies putting the figure between 10% and 56% of people living in different countries. In America alone, more than 100 million people live with chronic pain. With chronic pain, signals of unease remain active in the system for months or even years. This can take both a physical and emotional toll on a person.
Because it cannot be cured most of the time, chronic pain is viewed as an independent disease rather than a symptom of another illness in the body. Treatment of chronic pain therefore entails management of the condition and is aimed at improving the patient’s quality of life.
While chronic pain extends over a longer period of time, acute pain lasts for a significantly shorter time. Acute pain may be defined as the body’s normal reaction to hurt caused by a burn, cut, infection, or other physical injury. Some theorists have placed the time period that acute pain takes at thirty days or less. With this time marker, a third type of pain emerges; the pain that lasts between one month and three, six or twelve months. Some researchers have labeled this pain as sub-acute pain. When properly treated, acute pain subsides within a short period of time. When acute pain does not respond to treatment, it can become chronic.
Luckily, there’s some good news. Acupuncture, as part of an holistic model of medicine called Traditional Chinese Medicine, has been effectively treating chronic and acute pain for centuries. It’s gentle, safe, non invasive, has no side effects and patients can see results within the first few treatments. Before we explore the wonders of Chinese medicine, let’s take a closer look at the causes and conventional treatments of chronic and acute pain
What causes chronic and acute pain?
Pain may be caused by a number of factors. Sometimes, it is caused by health problems. For instance, a person suffering from constipation may experience pain in the stomach as a result of poor movement of the bowels. Pain may also result from injury. A burn, a scald or a broken bone are usually very painful experiences. Certain habits, for instance sitting for long periods of time, may cause lead to back pain. Other causes of pain may be external, for instance weather changes (that may trigger allergies among other effects) . Psychological pain may be the result of stress, anxiety or depression.
What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Pain?
One of the most obvious symptoms of chronic pain is the presence of a persistent mild to severe discomfort in the body. Some people report feeling a burning sensation, aching of a particular part of the body or a soreness of that part of the body. Others experience stiffness, tightness and general discomfort.
Along with the physical pain experienced, people suffering from chronic pain face other problems. Some experience a weakened immune system and are in constant danger of falling sick. Fatigue is another problem faced by people suffering from chronic pain. Usually, patients feel exhausted and would rather not participate in physical activities. Mood swings are also common, particularly for those suffering from psychological pain. Patients experience sudden changes in their emotions with fear, anxiety, irritability, hopelessness and stress topping the list of the emotional states of these people. Sometimes, chronic pain can render one disabled.
Symptoms of acute pain
Patients of acute pain can experience the symptoms experienced by those who suffer from chronic pain. The difference, however is that the symptoms here occur for a relatively short period of time before completely leaving the body upon successful treatment.
Types of chronic and acute pain
Chronic and acute pain come in many forms depending on the area of the body affected. Some of the most common pains include arthritis, migraine and headache, stomach pain, back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, foot pain, knee pain, elbow and wrist pain and sciatic nerve pain .
This pain may either be mild or severe. Sometimes, the pain is episodic, while at other instances it may be persistent. If the pain is mild, then it causes an inconvenience. When it is excruciating and continuous, pain can totally incapacitate a person.
Conventional treatment of chronic and acute pain
Some types of chronic pain cannot be cured and may need surgery, such as pain caused by disc problems in the spine. However, they can be treated in order to minimize the discomfort experienced by the patient. Currently, there are several methods of addressing pain. However, not all will work for you. Choosing the right method to address your problem depends on several factors such as:
- The length of time the problem has lasted.
- The severity of the condition.
- The area of the body affected by the pain.
- The cause of the pain.
While choosing which method is best for your condition, it is advisable to consult your doctor for guidance. Some of the commonest modern methods of addressing pain include:
The use of Pain Injections
In this approach, the doctor using an x-ray, finds out the exact position in the body to deliver medicine, usually cortisone, in order to alleviate the pain. Once the precise part of the body is determined, the doctor then administers the drug to counter the pain. This approach is useful for patients suffering from disc problems or chronic pain resulting from nerves along the spine.
The use of Prescription Medications
If you are suffering with pain for any length of time and have seen your doctor, you have had pain medications prescribed for your condition. Powerful anti inflammatory, muscle relaxers, and pain killers such as oxycodone, and others, are often part of a regimen to combat pain. Although this may be beneficial in the short term, taking these meds for an extended period of time certainly brings with it some degree of risk. Besides myriad side effects, becoming dependent on these meds is a possibility.
The use of Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA)
This approach targets the pain signals in the brain and involves the killing of pain nerves so that they cannot sent signals to the area of the body affected. The approach has been used for patients with arthritis and neuropathy among other conditions. It usually works for eight months, after which the doctor administers the treatment again.
The use of Acupuncture to treat chronic and acute pain
Acupuncture is a very effective way to treat many types of chronic and acute pain conditions. It involves stimulating specific pressure points on the body by inserting sterile, thin needles superficially into the skin. Acupuncture needles promote blood circulation while reducing inflammation and spasm. They also help the body release natural endorphins, painkillers, that help reduce pain while prompting the body to heal naturally. Acupuncture has been proven to help people with many types of pain, even those believed to require surgery.
Acupuncture is beneficial in the treatment of the following conditions:
- Headache and Migraine – In 2012, an analysis of data in acupuncture studies showed that acupuncture helps reduce the frequency and severity of headache.
- Low Back Pain – Studies by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in 2010 concluded that acupuncture was helpful in alleviating low-back pain. A 2012 analysis of data on participants in acupuncture studies looked at back and neck pain together and found that acupuncture was more helpful than either no acupuncture or sham acupuncture.
- Neck Pain – According to a research conducted in Germany in which 14,000 participants took part, acupuncture was reported to relieve neck pain significantly.
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- Berman BM, Langevin HM, Witt CM, et al. Acupuncture for chronic low back pain. New England Journal of Medicine. 2010;363(5):454–461.
- Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, et al. Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2009;(1):CD001218. Accessed at www.thecochranelibrary.com on October 26, 2016
- Witt CM, Jena S, Brinkhaus B, et al. Acupuncture for patients with chronic neck pain. Pain. 2006;125(1–2):98–106.