By Steve Dechan
Everyone knows what it means to experience physical pain. But what is pain really? Well the brain and nerves inside the spine (spinal nerves) make up the central nervous system and the spinal nerves carry messages from the body to the brain to tell it what’s going on. Say you burn your finger whilst making a stir fry, the nerves will inform your brain and that will trigger an alarm that results in the feeling of pain. After an injury like this, pain encourages the person to adopt behaviours that help the healing process; for example running your finger under cold water.
Chronic or persistent pain is pain that carries on for longer than 3 months or to put the science in layman’s terms the brain continues to send out pain signals consistently for over 12 weeks. Living with chronic pain can be extremely debilitating. It can impact a person’s ability to do day to day tasks like sweeping the kitchen floor, complete even basic exercise like going out for a walk and affect a person’s ability to work. You can imagine that chronic pain can leave a person feeling very isolated and can cause mental health concerns like anxiety and depression. People living with chronic pain should not feel alone. More than two fifths of the UK population live with chronic pain, meaning that around 28 million adults, are living with pain that has lasted for three months or longer.
People experience chronic pain for different reasons. I’ve bullet pointed some examples below:
- Those waiting for orthopaedic interventions like hip and knee replacements often experience a great deal of pain in the run up to their surgery and many also experience it after the procedure.
- It is common for women to experience chronic pelvic pain which can be caused by a variety of conditions including irritable bowel syndrome, cystitis and endometriosis.
- Chronic and often severe muscle aches and pain are the main symptom of Fibromyalgia: a chemical imbalance problem of the body’s pain nerves.
- Chronic back pain can be experienced for a myriad of reasons including a prolapsed or slipped disc or cauda equina syndrome.
It would be impossible for me to list out every condition that causes chronic pain because I’m not doctor. But if you are experiencing chronic pain I would encourage you to visit your GP and ask for help and advice. Being informed is a great way to feel empowered when you walk into that GP surgery, so I would also suggest doing some online reading in advance of your appointment if you can. There are lots of fantastic patient groups out there with all kinds of reading material online that could be of use to you. It is just as important to look after your mental health and again there are many support groups around that assist with this too.
Stay well and safe.