Managing Life with Chronic Pain

Posted on April 5th, 2018

Development of chronic pain changes the course of people’s lives and is a challenge to treat.

According to the Institute of Medicine, it has been estimated that chronic pain affects more than 100 million people in the United States and is the number one cause of long-term disability.  Chronic pain is defined by doctors as intractable pain that lasts 3 months or more and does not respond to treatment.  Most often it cannot be cured; it can only be managed.

Chronic pain sufferers are often misdiagnosed and misunderstood.  They frequently end up feeling invalidated by medical providers and family/friends because chronic pain is not a single symptom or a straightforward experience like acute pain – the body’s normal response to damage such as a cut, injury, or infection. Acute pain typically goes away in response to treatment within a predictable period of time. Chronic pain is often unpredictable and treatment protocol and duration are unknown.

Chronic pain becomes problematic when it begins to interfere with daily life functioning – keeping you from doing things you want and need to do. This in turn causes feelings of frustration, irritability, anger, isolation, depression and/or anxiety.  The focus of everyday life turns from goal driven behaviors and motivation for employment/school, social relationships, and extra-curricular activities to one dominated by struggle to complete tasks and thoughts and feelings that can interfere with life direction and purpose.

According to Michael Clark, a psychiatrist and director of the pain treatment program at Johns Hopkins Hospital “Approximately one-third to three-quarters of people with chronic pain experience moderate to severe depression.  Patients with depression experience increased pain because of overlap in the two affected systems: pain reception and mood regulation.  Both depression and chronic pain share some of the same neurotransmitters and nerve pathways.  So pain is worse, function is poor, response to pain treatment is diminished and their prognosis is worse until they can get their depression under better control.”

The good news is that chronic pain is treatable with the right combination of approaches. The typical medical model approach to treatment does not work for people who suffer from chronic pain.  A holistic approach using a multidisciplinary team for treatment is the most beneficial approach due to the complex nature of the symptoms of sufferers. The following are important providers to have on your team if you suffer from chronic pain:

  • An experienced chronic pain doctor – to manage and identify useful medication combinations.
  • physical therapist – to reactivate injured areas of the body and reset the nervous system response.
  • counselor – to identify strengths and appropriate expectations, rebuild self-confidence and worth, manage anxiety, and learn mindfulness and relaxation techniques.

Contact an LFS counselor today if you suffer from depression or anxiety due to chronic pain and want to learn how to manage these symptoms.

Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.” Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) 26th President

Philippians 4:6-7  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Jennifer Miller, LISW

Clinical Social Worker serving the Des Moines area