November 5-10, 2017 is National Pain Awareness Week in Canada. It is a step forward but also telling that Canadian society is recognizing chronic pain as such a significant issue. The first step in addressing chronic pain is understanding what it is. To comprehend it it helps to recognize how it differs from acute pain.
Acute pain is a completely normal and adaptive response by your nervous system to possible or real damage to your tissues. It is designed to tell you to make an appropriate response to what has occurred. For example, pain in your ankle after a sprain tells you to rest while your body goes about healing the injury. Acute pain goes away quickly and causes no associated harm to the person.
Chronic pain is much more complicated. It is, by definition, pain that has lasted more than six months. It is usually caused by a physical injury that did not heal properly. Emotional, psychological or physical may also be the root of it. Pain that persists can also lead to associated mood changes like depression or anxiety. It can lead to excessive worry and stress. Fear of movement, lack of exercise and disruption in sleep may also be associated with it. Unfortunately all these associated symptoms of chronic pain can exacerbate the pain thereby creating a vicious cycle. Bottom line is that chronic pain is not simply about tissue damage. It is about changes to many of our systems and therefore a lot more layered than acute pain. Professor Harald Breivik, co-editor of Clinical Pain Management, has called chronic pain “one of the most underestimated health care problems in the world today, causing major consequences for the quality of life of the sufferer.” Here are some statistics that highlight it’s real and significant impacts on individuals and society.
1 in 5 Canadians experience chronic pain
Chronic pain costs $37 billion per year in productivity due to job loss and sick days
Most common types of chronic pain- 27% low back pain, 15% headache, 15% neck pain
77% report feeling depressed because of their pain
51% say they feel helpless when it comes to dealing with it
20% have disrupted sleep because of it
20% have to take a disability from work because of it
A quick glance and you can see the serious impact of pain. The old-school approach of treating pain with opioids have come under a lot of scrutiny. For good reason-they come with a host of dependence and addiction issues surrounding them. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. Opioids are also not overly effective, in fact, they were shown to be effective for chronic pain in only 23% of cases.
So what do. A new strategy to the treatment of pain is needed. This approach is not meant to work in isolation but rather in harmony with medical management set out by your physician. This strategy is meant to stop the vicious cycle of pain discussed above. These are inexpensive and simple strategies that most importantly work-
Nutrition and supplements
Therapies such as Chiropractic, Acupuncture and Massage
Stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness and breathing exercises
Finding better work-life balance
In upcoming blogs posted to this website as well as to Facebook, I will be posting articles and links focusing on specifics of each of these components in the treatment of pain. It is my hope that these will be helpful for you live a healthier life with more energy and less pain.