facts about Chronic pain
Pain that is short-lived and resolves on its own over time, such as pain associated with a minor burn, cut, or a broken bone is referred to as “acute pain”. Acute pain is both normal and adaptive because it warns us that damage has occurred. With conservative treatment (e.g., rest, moderate exercise, or antiinflamatory medication) most acute pains will resolve on their own. However, pain that persists for an extended period of time (such as 3 months or longer), that is associated with a medical condition (e.g., cancer), or pain that is associated with an injury that has not resolved over time may be referred to as “chronic” pain. For some people, the pain signal that is generated in the brain as a result of injury continues to fire; however, the pain is no longer an indication of tissue damage and it serves no adaptive purpose.
Prevalence and costs of Chronic pain
Chronic pain is a common problem that affects aproximately 100 million Americans. It accounts for 20% of all medical visits and 10% of all drug sales. The total costs of pain to society, which combines healthcare costs estimates and loss of productivity estimates, ranges from $560 to $635 billion dollars. This exceeds the costs of the of the six mostly costly major diagnoses including cardiovascular diseases ($309 billion), neoplasms ($243 billion), injury and poisoning ($205 billion), endocrine, nutritional and metabilic diseases ($309 billion), digestive system diseases ($112 billion), and respiratory system diseases ($112 billion).
Types of pain
Some people experience "musculoskeletal pain" which may feel like a dull or intense ache, while others experience "neuropathic pain" which may feel like an electric shock or "pins and needles". Still it is not uncommon to experience pain in several locations and combinations of both musculoskeletal and neuropathic pain.
When pain medications are taken as prescribed their effects can be very beneficial particularly in cases of cancer pain, acute intense pain (post-surgical pain), or in cases where pain is both intense and chronic. Physicians sometimes prescribe opiate (narcotic) pain medication to patients with chronic pain for long-term use; however, there are personal costs for long-term use including constipation, sleep issues, lethargy, reduced ability to concentrate or focus, and addiction.
A significant issue with pain medication is that some people don’t always use them as they are prescribed. They may keep a stash of extra meds for a "rainy day", or take more pain medication than presecribed after pushing themselves hard over the weekend. This cycle of taking meds to catch up with pain can lead to increased tolerance, side effects, use of other substances, and ultimately addictive behaviors. If your pain medications are not covering your pain the way you want them to then you should talk to your prescriber about developing a more effective strategy.