Approximately 20% of the global population — one out of every five people — suffers from chronic pain (defined as pain that persists for at least twelve weeks). If you or someone you know is experiencing chronic pain, it is important to understand these 5 truths.
Many illnesses are characterized by chronic pain. Likewise, some injuries (either traumatic or recurrent stress) can cause nerve damage or musculoskeletal deformities that cause chronic pain.
Yet chronic pain is not a sign of poor health or failure to focus on healthy living. Often, people develop “primary chronic musculoskeletal pain” or idiopathic or non-specific chronic pain — which cannot be attributed to any specific illness or injury.
That means anybody can experience chronic pain.
The biggest misconception about chronic pain is that it always belies some underlying (even if undiscovered) condition; “chronic pain is a sign you are unhealthy.” This misconception leads further to the conclusion that episodes of chronic pain signal worsening health or, alternatively, notable harmful disease progression.
In truth, acute pain (the body’s natural response to injury) tends to have the ability to heal and often resolves within twelve weeks.
Nevertheless, this myth about chronic pain persists. As a result, people experiencing chronic pain tend to demonstrate much higher levels of catastrophic thinking and focus more on their experience of pain than those with acute pain.
When it comes to treating chronic pain, whether with prescription medications, physical therapy, or healing pants, there is no panacea (yet). Despite this hard truth, many chronic pain sufferers become hyper-focused on fixing their pain, then depressed when treatment fails. This undermines their feelings of control over the situation and negates any potential benefit of their efforts to cope with pain by resolving it.
Though there is no cure-all for chronic pain, adopting a holistic healthy living attitude — which recognizes the biopsychosocial nature of pain — can help you find new avenues for relief. For example, effective alternative approaches to chronic pain management include therapy, natural supplements, exercise programs, and even smartphone-mediated interventions.
The exact method of action for each of these interventions is unique (therapy teaches you to replace maladaptive thoughts with a healthy living mindset; natural supplements may have an analgesic effect, relax musicals, or ease anxiety; etc.). Nevertheless, each of them approaches chronic pain as a multi-faceted mind-body experience.
Recent research suggests that mindfulness training -- including exercises like body scans and mindful movement practice, breathing anchors, and kindly awareness meditation -- can have a significant impact on how people perceive and cope with chronic pain. Mindfulness training can not only reduce pain intensity but also minimize pain-related interference in daily life. This is because mindfulness strengthens a person’s accommodative coping skills, giving people the ability to accept things they cannot change and move forward.
Recent findings suggest that the actions/attitudes of people involved in your treatment can impact your experience of chronic pain.
For one, dismissive perceptions of chronic pain — especially “invisible” or “unprovable” chronically painful conditions — lead to undertreatment and poor management. What’s more, participation in compassionate caritative communities (which empower patients to identify and stand up for their needs) can significantly reduce the emotional and physical suffering caused by chronic pain.
This underscores the fact that learning to cope, live, and thrive with chronic pain is a cooperative process, not one you must (or should) endure alone.
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