At VanCityPhysio, our Physiotherapists specialize in treating pain, both acute
Chronic pain is very different from acute pain. Acute pain is what you
experience when you get hurt—say, when you break a bone or burn your
hand—or when something goes wrong in your body, such as indigestion,
appendicitis, or a passing kidney stone.
Acute pain is like an alarm system. It tells you your body is being or has recently been damaged so that you can do something about it. The message can be, "The burner is hot, so please stop touching it," or "The tendon in your ankle is damaged and walking on it will have negative consequences." It's the information you need and can put to use.
Chronic pain is like an alarm that's malfunctioning or goes off when it doesn't need to, like a smoke alarm with a dying battery. We've all had that neighbor whose car alarm goes off any time a cat walks by or the wind blows, waking you up in the middle of the night and going on and on. Everyone on the street knows they don't need to call 911 or come flying up out of bed to chase off a thief, and yet that alarm still has an impact on your life.
When Acute Pain Becomes Chronic
Acute pain can turn into chronic pain. Different healthcare providers have different benchmarks for how long it takes to become chronic. Some say three months, others say six months or a year. Still, others consider it chronic if the pain has persisted longer than it typically would for whatever caused it.
Medical science didn't used to understand why pain would linger after something was healed. Often, they'd say the pain was "all in your head." More recently, though, researchers have discovered that acute pain sometimes changes how our brains are wired.
When you sense pain, what's happening is that your nerves are detecting a problem and sending signals to your brain. Your brain then sends signals out to your body aimed at removing danger and directing the healing process.
When signals are constantly going back and forth, it's like your nervous system gets in the habit of sending them, and sometimes, it doesn't stop even when it should. The physical structures that carry those signals have changed, similarly to how pathways in your brain change when you learn a new skill.
Types of Chronic Pain
Not all pain feels the same. If you've had a cut, a bruise, a burn, and a sprain, you know that they're all different. Chronic pain also varies by cause.
Chronic pain is often described as:
- Electrical (zingy, prickly)
Less common descriptions may include words like "deep" or "warm."
A healthcare provider may be able to tell a lot from how you describe your pain. For example, shooting electrical pain most likely comes from a nerve.
Pain Triggers & Related Symptoms
Chronic pain is sometimes constant, but it doesn't have to be. The pain of a condition like irritable bowel syndrome may only be present after eating certain foods, but it could still be considered chronic. The same goes for knee pain that's triggered by cold or overuse but isn't there all the time.
Your pain triggers can also tell a healthcare provider a lot about what's going on in your body. In some cases, it can even point toward specific management strategies.
While pain is the primary symptom, other symptoms frequently accompany chronic pain. These often include:
- Poor sleep
- Decreased appetite
- Impaired mental function
- Poor coordination
Not everyone with chronic pain will experience all of these symptoms. Also, some chronic-pain conditions include many additional symptoms, as well.
Treating Chronic Pain
Treatments for chronic pain can vary greatly depending on your diagnosis.
Depending on your symptoms and overlapping conditions, your healthcare provider may recommend additional treatments, such as:
- Massage therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Nutritional supplements
Lifestyle changes may also help you feel better. These can include:
- Dietary changes
- Modified activity levels
- Special accommodation at school or work
- Leaving school or work
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting or eliminating alcohol
- Stress management
- Mobility aids
Medications for pain may include:
- Opioid painkillers
- Anti-rheumatic drugs
- Epilepsy drugs
- Muscle relaxants
Daily Life with Chronic Pain
Living with chronic pain is hard. At times, you may feel hopeless or desperate for relief.
With proper diagnosis and treatment, some chronic pain goes away over time. Some does not. While there's no one-size-fits-all treatment, you do have a lot of options available for reducing your pain, which can improve your functionality and quality of life.
By working with VanCityPhysio to find the right treatment regimen, and by making smart, healthy choices, you may be able to make significant improvements! Contact our front desk at 604.398.5584 so that you may start you recovery with lasting results!