Most people understand pain. Whether it’s from an occasional headache, a broken leg or a stubbed toe, most people understand what pain feels like. But chronic pain? Not everyone will understand what that is like.
When does pain become chronic?
Chronic pain is defined by NHS Inform as pain that carries on for longer than twelve weeks despite treatment.
Pain that lasts for twelve weeks probably sounds dreadful to most people. Unimaginable to others. But what if the pain goes on for longer? For twelve months perhaps? Or even twelve years? Or what if the pain continues with no end in sight?
I have lived with chronic pain since I was a teenager. I am now 53. I have pain 24/7 from various conditions. I can’t imagine life without pain. I do enjoy life despite it, but I really can’t imagine not having pain. It’s just life.
It’s life for millions of people worldwide.
There are a huge number of conditions which cause chronic pain, but many people are misdiagnosed or completely undiagnosed.
A few conditions which could cause chronic pain :
- Back pain
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- EDS (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome)
- CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome)
- ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)
- Trigeminal neuralgia and other headache or facial pain conditions
Very often, there is no known cause for someone’s chronic pain. When people can’t be given a name for their pain, it often leads to them feeling like they’re not believed. A name does make a difference.
To wake up (if they’ve even slept) knowing that the day ahead is simply going to be full of the same pain, can be grim and dire. No matter what the cause is, it normally means a day of agonising pain and a day of popping pills. It’s unpredictable, demanding and demoralising. It can be soul destroying.
But there’s more to chronic pain than just the pain. It’s more than the pain itself and it’s more than taking medication four times a day.
Chronic pain can bring with it a multitude of other problems.
People can suffer from fatigue, tiredness, insomnia, confusion and concentration problems.
Because of their chronic pain, people often live with emotional and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, stress and tension. They may live with fear, guilt, frustration, bitterness and anger. They often suffer from self-loathing, low self-esteem and low self-confidence.
Chronic pain sufferers are often not believed
A person with chronic pain often feels the needs to justify themselves to other people. Their pain might not be visible. People might not believe them. Family. Friends. Colleagues. Benefit agencies. Insurance companies. Even doctors. Sufferers are living a nightmare most days yet the people who should believe them, often don’t. They’re told the pain can’t be that bad, that there’s nothing wrong with them or that they’re just lazy. They’re told to just get out of bed and do some exercise. They are told they are fit to work despite their pain.
Many sufferers are unable to work. They depend on state benefits and often financial help from families. Food, heating and medications can be unaffordable. They often feel that they are a burden.
Friends and families
When someone has chronic pain, their pain dictates what they can and, more often, can’t do. They can’t always go for coffee with their best friend. They aren’t always able to go to a friend’s birthday party. They may not manage to go to a family wedding.
Friends sometimes drift away. They might want a more ‘reliable’ friend. They might want one who will be there, not one who cancels at the last minute because of their pain time after time.
Families can become frustrated. Sometimes they can’t understand why the pain can’t be cured with some extra strong headache pills. They might not be able to handle seeing their nearest and dearest in pain. Sometimes they might not believe that the pain can be so controlling. And sometimes they might want a more ‘reliable’ relative. Sometimes they too just drift away.
Many sufferers deal with loneliness and isolation because of this.
Close, intimate relationships are often affected too. It takes an understanding person to cope with their partner’s chronic pain. They often need to be a carer as well as a partner. They often need to accept nothing more than a gentle hug, put up with the days when showering is impossible and give help with simple daily tasks like washing and dressing.
A sufferer’s pain becomes their partner’s pain too
They see the moods, the frustration and the tears. Their partner’s pain affects them so much, that it actually becomes their pain too. The couple needs to share it. They need to endure it together. But sadly, for some couples, that becomes too difficult.
Prescriptions are dished out for the pain, but those symptoms above need to be addressed and treated too.
Getting help for all the accompanying symptoms is so important. It’s no good just treating the pain. The whole person needs to be treated.
Better solutions need to be found. Medical professionals need to recognise that there is more to chronic pain than just the pain. Hopefully we will start to see a difference soon because the World Health Organisation is changing how chronic pain is categorised.
Chronic pain is a condition in its own right
This month (May, 2019), for the first time, Chronic Pain will be included as a disease in its own right by the World Health Organisation.
There will be two classifications – Chronic Primary Pain and Chronic Secondary Pain.
The International Association for the Study of Pain explains the classifications :
Chronic Primary Pain
This will be characterised by disability or emotional distress, which does not fall under the heading of another disorder. It will cover widespread pain, chronic musculoskeletal pain, some headache conditions, non-specific pain and other conditions such as chronic pelvic pain and IBS.
Those conditions will now be classed by WHO as chronic pain syndromes.
Chronic secondary pain
This will have six categories:
Chronic cancer-related pain is related to cancer or its treatment.
Chronic postsurgical or post-traumatic pain develops or increases in intensity after a tissue trauma.
Chronic neuropathic pain is caused by a lesion or disease of the somatosensory nervous system. Peripheral and central neuropathic pain are classified here.
Chronic secondary headache or orofacial pain contains chronic forms of headaches, orofacial pain, such as chronic dental pain.
Chronic secondary visceral pain is chronic pain secondary to an underlying condition originating from internal organs of the head or neck region or of the thoracic, abdominal or pelvic regions.
Chronic secondary musculoskeletal pain is chronic pain in bones, joint and tendons arising from an underlying disease classified elsewhere.
Chronic pain sufferers need hope
When chronic pain is recognised as a health problem in its own right, sufferers should hopefully receive access to better treatment. It could also mean extra funding towards much needed research.
People desperately need this hope. They need hope because there is more to chronic pain than just pain. Much more.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I’d really love to hear what you think, so please leave a comment below.
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