Haims: Early intervention is critical in managing chronic pain
Chronic pain is defined as pain that persists for more than three months and can be caused by a range of conditions, including arthritis, neck pain, back pain, cancer pain, neuropathy and fibromyalgia. It is a complex condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide. In the United States alone, it is estimated that more than 50.2 million adults experience chronic pain.
Chronic pain is different than what is commonly known as acute pain. Acute pain is the type that happens suddenly when one gets hurt. Most often, it is caused when something specific occurs like an injury or as a warning sign of a bodily threat. While it can be severe, most often it lasts a relatively short time.
Recent data indicates that chronic pain has become more prevalent among individuals of all ages, genders and ethnicities. One of the contributing factors has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a surge in anxiety, depression, and stress — all of which have been shown to exacerbate pain symptoms. Additionally, prolonged isolation and reduced physical activity have led to an increase in musculoskeletal disorders, which may be linked to chronic pain complications.
The economic impact of chronic pain is also significant. While the data is almost a decade old, a Medical Expenditure Panel Survey shows that chronic pain costs the U.S. economy more than $600 billion annually in medical expenses, lost productivity and disability benefits.
Managing chronic pain often requires a comprehensive approach that includes both pharmacological and nonpharmacological interventions. While appropriate at times, pharmacological choices do not always have to include narcotics/opioids. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAIDs, can be quite effective for mild to moderate pain. Aspirin, ibuprofen, Celebrex and naproxen are common NSAIDs used for pain management.
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Some antidepressants and anti-seizure medications (available by prescription) like Cymbalta, Pristiq, and Fetzima have been found to help relieve chronic pain. However, people considering such medications should be aware that there may be side effects of these medications. While side effects may be generally mild, they may include nausea, dizziness or drowsiness.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation is a nonpharmacological intervention that has proven to be quite effective for many people who experience chronic pain. TENS therapy uses low-voltage electrical current to provide pain relief. Over time, acupuncture and biofeedback have also been shown to assist in relieving chronic pain. Other nonpharmacological interventions to be considered may include physical therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy, and mindfulness-based stress reduction.
Early intervention is critical in managing chronic pain. Researchers and medical providers believe that individuals who receive early intervention for chronic pain have better outcomes and are less likely to develop long-term disability.
Exercise has also been shown to be an effective treatment in pain management. For example, exercises that put joints through their full range of motion have been shown to provide various levels of relief for those with arthritis. Swimming, yoga, Pilates and even general stretching are low-impact activities that may provide relief.
Pain is subjective and its treatment is not straightforward — it looks different for everyone. While medication may provide relief for some, sleep, exercise, diet, and mind and body techniques have proven to be successful alternatives to medication(s). There are a lot of different things you can do to control pain and reduce its influence on your life.
Increasing our knowledge and understanding of pain can modify how we perceive and experience pain. It is important to consider all practical options when it comes to pain management. Don’t pigeonhole yourself into just one option for relief. Talk to your medical provider and get advice on options that may be best suited to your personal needs.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and available to answer questions. His contact information is VisitingAngels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.