Although acute pain serves an important function to alert us to something like a sprained ankle, chronic pain is more complex. Chronic pain occurs when pain has persisted for more than 3 months or beyond the body’s natural healing time. People understandably think that pain must be due to something that is physically wrong in the body but chronic pain is actually the result of a combination of biological, psychological and social factors. For this reason the treatment is often focused on reducing stress, building new ways of coping, increasing activity and treating anxiety and depression.
Chronic pain is less to do with something that is physically wrong and more to do with central nervous system which has become more sensitive. When the nervous system is sensitised it is common to feel pain in everyday movements like bending over or walking. It is as though the volume has been 'turned up'. Many people can recognise the affect stress and strong emotions have on pain for example a poor night's sleep, a stressful day at work or having a lot to do. When we feel this way stress hormones are released into the body such as adrenaline and cortisol which can further 'turn up' the volume on the nervous system and make pain worse.
Signs and symptoms associated with Chronic Pain
- Feelings of frustration or anger
- Low mood
- Problems with sleep
- Low self-esteem
- Negative self-beliefs
- Loss of motivation
- Mood swings
- Problems in relationships
What type of therapy can help?
Therapy can help educate people about the factors which contribute to chronic pain and how to make adjustments to manage it. People have often fallen into the trap of doing less and less, or overdoing it on better days and suffering the day after. Therapy can help people to consider how to pace their activities so they can get back to a better quality of life. It can also be hard to accept the pain which can in itself make the experience worse. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can help people to accept their condition so that they can start to rebuild a value driven life.
Therapies which have been found to be helpful include:
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