Pain is defined as the “unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage” by the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP).
We feel pain as a result of pain signals sent through nerve fibers to the brain. The reason for these pain signals is to warn our bodies to react to this damage and prevent additional tissue damage.
Acute vs. Chronic Pain
Acute pain usually occurs suddenly and is caused by something specific. The severity of acute pain varies but is often sharp in quality. Most acute pain cases do not last longer than six months and goes away when the underlying cause for the pain is resolved. Causes of acute pain include:
- Broken bones
- Dental work
- Serious Burns or cuts
Once acute pain goes away, patients can resume their normal life.
Chronic pain, on the other hand, is ongoing pain that usually lasts more than six months. This type of pain continues for weeks, months or even years after the underlying cause has fully healed. Some people suffer chronic pain even when there is no past injury or apparent body damage. Conditions linked to chronic pain include:
- Spinal disease
- Nerve pain
- Back pain
- Fibromyalgia pain
How long does chronic pain last?
This question is tough to answer, because everybody is different and every case of chronic pain is different. Your body can hurt for weeks, months, or even years after the injury or illness is fully healed.
As a general rule of thumb, doctors define chronic pain as any pain that lasts for 6 months or more. Unfortunately, for some people, chronic pain never goes away. Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and multiple sclerosis are two conditions that never go away.
People who have chronic pain can experience both physical and emotional symptoms, such as:
- Tense muscles
- Limited ability to move around
- A lack of energy
- Appetite changes
- Fear of re-injury
How is chronic pain diagnosed?
Despite major advancement in technology, we still have not figured out a way to objectively measure pain. In some instances, even after all the tests are completed, doctors still can’t figure out what’s causing the pain. Only the person suffering with chronic pain can know how much pain he or she is feeling.
When diagnosing pain, your doctor will ask you for general information regarding you and the pain:
- Your past illnesses and your overall health
- Where the pain is located
- How long the pain has been going on for
- Whether the pain is sharp or dull, constant, or on and off
- Rate how bad the pain is using a numerical scale
- Describe the pain in more details
However, these questions do not produce the most accurate results. Did the pain begin 2 months ago or 1 month ago? Maybe the pain is actually 6 out of 10 in severity, but is described as 10 out of 10 by the patient. By nature, pain is a subjective feeling, so qualitative answers won’t help doctors properly diagnose the condition.
To properly diagnose the pain, doctors may also conduct additional physical exams, including:
- Laboratory tests – assess blood, urine, spinal cord fluids and brain health
- Musculoskeletal exams – analyze balance, coordination, reflexes and sensation
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – scans the brain, spinal cord, and joints
- X-rays – obtain images of bones, joints, arteries and veins, and soft tissues
- Electromyography tests – examine muscle activity
- Nerve conduction studies – measures the health of your nerves
In most cases, test results come out normal, making it difficult to know the exact cause of your pain. But this doesn’t mean that your pain isn’t real or that doctors don’t care about you. It just means that current technology is lacking when it comes to pain diagnostics.
What is the best treatment for chronic pain?
Chronic pain is different for each individual; but everyone in chronic pain shares one thing in common. We all must deal with pain and search for relief.
Here are the most common ways in which chronic pain patients find relief:
- Painkillers (NSAIDs, acetaminophen, COX-2 inhibitors, antidepressants, etc)
- Home therapies such as massage or yoga
- Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine
- Dietary changes
- Low-intensity exercises
- Getting enough sleep
- Natural pain relief supplements (cat’s claw, valerian root, Boswellia, etc)
Some of these relief methods may work very well for you, while others are completely ineffective. Regardless, we recommend you try them all. Try them in combination with one another too. And most importantly, keep track of your pain using a “pain diary” so you can remember what worked and what didn’t.
Final tip on chronic pain management
Talk to your doctor if your pain does not go away or if it gets worse. You may need to try uncommon treatments in order to figure out what works for you. Opioids, intravenous injections, nerve stimulations, and surgeries are used for some serious forms of chronic pain.
Living with chronic pain is extremely challenging. Some patients even turn to counselling support in order to manage all the frustration, fear, anger, depression, and anxiety that comes with pain.
Lastly, despite all the options available for chronic pain management, sometimes we are forced to face the unfortunate reality that pain will always be there with us. Indeed, in some instances chronic pain leaves us and never returns. And, yes, we can manage our pain so well that we can go on with our lives and do daily activities like normal. However, we must also be ready to accept the fact that chronic pain is here to stay. Once we can accept our conditions, we can effectively treat it and make our lives the best it can possibly be.
Kratom and Chronic Pain
An anonymous online survey conducted in October 2016 found that 68% of middle-aged users (31-50 years old) were using Kratom for self-treating pain.
A total of 8049 respondents completed the survey.
Dr. Grundmann, Ph. D from the University of Florida notes that people have used Kratom for a variety of reasons including self-treatment of pain, mood disorders, and withdrawal symptoms from prescription and non-prescription drugs. But he also expressed concern, saying “We do not have good clinical trial information. That should give us pause and caution in making solid recommendations about the use of Kratom.”