About Chronic Pain
Pain is a common and normal human experience – we all experience pain at times. It may occur after an injury, following a medical procedure, as a result of a disease or sometimes with no apparent cause. The pain we experience is usually important. For example, it tells us that something may be wrong, that we may need to be careful not to hurt ourselves further and that it might be a good idea to get some medical help. But while pain usually subsides with time, sometimes it can persist well after our body should normally have healed itself.
Any pain that lasts for more than 3 months is said to be chronic pain. Such pain is also often referred to as persistent pain. Chronic pain is very common – it affects about 1 in 5 Australian adults.
We still do not know exactly why some people continue to experience pain while others do not. Pain can have a variety of causes and the cause of any particular pain is not always identifiable. And even when the cause of pain is known, it is not always possible for the pain to be permanently relieved through medical procedures or via medications. When pain cannot be completely or permanently relieved, it becomes all the more important to learn to manage it and your emotional wellbeing, so that you can maintain a good quality of life.
Impact of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain can affect all areas of peoples’ lives. It can affect their ability to work, to manage simple day-to-day tasks and to enjoy social activities as they did in the past.
By limiting what people can do, chronic pain can also have a big impact on their emotional wellbeing and overall quality of life. At least 50% of Australian adults with chronic pain experience serious levels of anxiety and depression. Fears of making the pain worse and about living with the pain are common. Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and loss are also common and very understandable.
When people experience chronic pain, they are often affected by three types of symptoms:
1 - Physical Symptoms
The pain itself, muscle weakness/stiffness, tension and headaches. Physical symptoms can also include changes in sleep, low energy levels, symptoms of panic, reduced concentration and memory difficulties.
2 - Unhelpful Thoughts
Thoughts about the nature of the pain and our ability to cope. Feeling hopeless and helpless about ourselves and the future. Self-criticism, self-doubt and worry are also common.
3 - Changes in Behaviour
Reduced activities or doing fewer pleasurable activities. Overdoing activities when pain is good. Underdoing activities when pain is bad. Behavioural symptoms can also include increased irritability, avoidance and withdrawal.
Chronic pain is a serious condition. When people experience chronic pain, they often also experience symptoms of anxiety and depression, including feeling helpless, hopeless or suicidal. This is especially the case on bad days when their pain is worse. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please urgently contact Lifeline (13 11 14), your GP, another health professional or your local mental health team, or click here. If you require immediate assistance, dial 000. Remember, it is possible to learn to manage chronic pain and depression is treatable.
Management of Chronic Pain
If the cause of pain can be treated it should be.
Please note that it is always important to first see your doctor for a medical assessment of your pain to rule out any malignant or treatable causes for your pain. . Maintaining a good working relationship with your doctor is essential to the management of all medical conditions but especially for chronic conditions such as chronic pain.
Some pain cannot be completely or permanently relieved and this is regrettable. The good news is that there are practical skills that can be used to manage pain and its impact on our life and emotional wellbeing. We know that these skills can reduce the impact pain has on your life – whether you have a chronic pain condition like fibromyalgia, experience headaches, or your pain has occurred after an injury, a medical procedure or as a result of a disease.
We believe that an effective pain management course involves learning about your symptoms and learning practical, proven and helpful strategies for managing your pain and emotional wellbeing. Having credible information about chronic pain is also an essential part of learning to manage pain. Research shows that people with chronic pain can benefit from learning about chronic pain and several core self-management skills, which is what we provide in our Pain Course.
For further information about treatment or management options for chronic pain and emotional wellbeing you can:
- Talk to your General Practitioner
- See another health professional to learn strategies for managing pain and emotional wellbeing
- Complete a MindSpot Online Screening Assessment to learn more about your symptoms and treatment options.