Monday Medical: Understanding Chronic Pain

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a three-part series on chronic pain management and treatment. Part 2 will focus on how injections can relieve symptoms, and Part 3 will look at how complementary therapies such as acupuncture, physical therapy, and massage therapy can also help.

While many people experience occasional physical pain, others experience extreme discomfort that affects their ability to work or perform daily tasks. It can also negatively affect relationships and mental and emotional health.

But finding the right treatment for chronic pain is possible and can greatly improve quality of life, pain experts say.

“If chronic pain is a constant part of your life, it’s what you think about,” says Heather Hack, a certified family nurse at the UCHealth Pain Management Clinic in Steamboat Springs. “It interferes with daily life, work, and social life. People with chronic pain can develop depression, anxiety, and sleep deprivation. I might start.”

Frequent diagnosis of chronic pain

Chronic pain is usually defined as unresolved pain lasting more than 3 months despite medication or treatment. If you suffer from chronic pain, the first step is to see your GP to determine the cause of your pain. A treatment plan can then be developed that includes appropriate referrals and pain management techniques as needed.

Nearly one in five Americans suffers from chronic pain. Chronic pain can have many different causes, including:

  • injury or accident.
  • Bone cancer or cancer that presses on nerves or organs.
  • Complex regional pain syndrome.
  • Nerve damage due to diabetes.
  • previous surgery.
  • Arthritis of the spine or joints.
  • Fibromyalgia, a chronic disease characterized by muscle tenderness.

Huck said he also sees a significant number of patients develop chronic pain from repetitive tasks, work-related tasks such as lifting, bending over, and handling heavy equipment.

Chronic Pain Treatment Options

These days, pain professionals rely less on opioid prescriptions, use opioids only to a limited extent, and in combination with other treatment options. Rather, Huck and her colleagues advocate a holistic approach that includes other types of medications, targeted injections, physical therapy, acupuncture, and massage therapy.

In addition to being addictive, opioids can cause opioid-induced hyperalgesia, which increases the level of pain experienced by a person, so it is important to reduce opioid dependence.

“Then the body thinks it needs more opioids to keep the pain under control, and it becomes a vicious cycle,” says Huck.

Long-term opioid use is also associated with hormonal dysfunction, heart rhythm abnormalities, and an increased risk of fractures.

“We prefer to use other, more curative alternatives that actually treat pain rather than just masking it.”

Huck said the goal for patients is to reduce pain by 70 to 80 percent.

“You may not be able to eliminate pain completely, but you can reduce it so that people can function and have a better quality of life,” Huck said, adding that he “graduated” from the pain clinic. He added that some never returned and others needed a pain clinic. Like to come back regularly. For example, you may need to come back for steroid injections that last for 6 months.

Huck said it’s important that the pain management team work together to develop an individualized treatment plan for each patient to maximize success. When deciding on a treatment route, it is important to take a patient’s history, perform tests, inquire about previous treatments, and determine the overall approach to treatment.

An essential component for some patients is addressing the psychological component of pain. This could include patients working with behavioral health professionals to explore the relationship between emotions and pain through treatments ranging from relaxation techniques to goal setting and education.

“Chronic pain affects the whole person,” says Huck. “There are many options and treatments that can really reduce the level of pain that patients are experiencing and make a big difference. We want people to get their lives back.”

Mary Gay Broderick writes for UCHealth. You can contact her at her

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