By Kathy Hubbard
“DON’T HANG UP!” The booming voice said over the phone. The call, like many robocalls had a local number so for a moment I didn’t realize that it wasn’t a real person. “We can stop your chronic pain,” the woman’s voice yelled at me. I can only assume they turned the volume up to get my attention. Either that or I’m on some “old person, half deaf” database.
Anyway, I did hang up but it occurred to me that many of my readers suffer from chronic pain and that it just might be a good subject to research for this week’s article.
The National Institutes of Health define chronic pain as any pain lasting more than twelve weeks. “Whereas acute pain is a normal sensation that alerts us to possible injury, chronic pain is very different. Chronic pain persists – often for months or even longer.”
We know why we’re in pain if we’ve had an injury, but frequently we have no idea why we’re in pain or where the pain is originating from.
“Other health problems, such as fatigue, sleep disturbance, decreased appetite, and mood changes, often accompany chronic pain,” NIH says. “Chronic pain may limit a person’s movements, which can reduce flexibility, strength, and stamina. This difficulty in carrying out important and enjoyable activities can lead to disability and despair.”
Your healthcare provider may suggest you see a specialist whether it be one who specializes in orthopedic surgery or, if the root of your pain is inoperable, to a pain management specialist. We’re lucky to have both types of medical professionals in our small town.
There are a variety of options for the treatment of chronic pain,” the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine explains. “Under the general category of medications, there are both oral and topical therapies for the treatment of chronic pain.”
If over-the-counter medications alleviate your pain, continue taking them. Just be sure you’re not exceeding the recommended dosage. But, the ASRA points out that there are many things that can help reduce or stop the pain that don’t involve drugs.
One that we’ve talked about before is exercise. Best supervised by a certified physical therapist, there may be tried and true methods that will increase your range of motion and decrease pain.
“There are also alternative modalities, such as acupuncture,” ASRA says. They also mention transcutaneous electro-nerve stimulator (TENS) units that are placed on your skin to provide stimulation around the area of pain. This treatment passes alternating current through superficial tissues causing tingling sensations. Some people have had success with this treatment.
There’s another product on the market called H-Wave, that is also an electrical stimulation device that NIH says is also safe and effective. It’s certainly worth asking a medical professional for their opinion. NIH says that in a limited study they found both TENS and H-Wave provided localized hypoalgesia (decreased sensitivity to pain) during stimulation.
“Finally, there are interventional techniques that involve injections into or around various levels of the spinal region,” ASRA says. These can involve relatively superficial injections into the painful muscles, called trigger point injections, or may involve more invasive procedures.
“There are multiple procedures that range from epidural injections for pain involving the neck and arm or the back and leg, facet injections into the joints that allow movement of the neck and back to injections for burning pain of the arms or legs due to a syndrome called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy,” they say.
Medications don’t have to contain opioids to relieve pain symptoms. ASRA says that antidepressants may be helpful in controlling pain. “The pain relieving properties of these medications are such that they can relieve pain in doses that are lower than the doses needed to treat depression.”
Anticonvulsants (anti-seizure) medications can be helpful for some kinds of nerve pain such as burning, shooting pain. And, muscle relaxants are most often used when the patient suffers from muscle spasms.
All in all there are many options for controlling chronic pain, most likely including the one the screeching woman might have sold me if I’d stayed on the line.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.