Taking control of chronic pain
Long-term, persistent or chronic pain affects about one in five adult Australians, and if left untreated can have severe effects both physically and emotionally.
Although most chronic pain can be managed easily with treatment, most people don’t seek help.
What is chronic pain?
We all get the odd aches and pains, but in some cases they don’t go away. If pain persists for longer than three months it is considered ‘chronic’. This can have ongoing physical and psychological effects, meaning the pain itself becomes a problem that needs attention.
More than just pain
Chronic pain often begins with an injury or underlying illness like arthritis for example, although many people aren’t able to identify the original cause. Over time it can lead to sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, and can place a strain on personal relationships. Research suggests that treating pain in cancer patients may prolong life, and may help improve immune system function .
Seek help early
Pain is your body letting you know something is wrong. If you listen to these signals and seek treatment early on, it’s possible to prevent pain from becoming persistent. Make an appointment with your GP or see a physiotherapist right away to get on top of the problem.
Looking after yourself is important. Maintain a healthy diet and take time out to relax and de-stress. By improving your general health you’ll feel better and this may help to counteract some of the negative impacts of chronic pain.
Exercise can also be helpful for muscle and joint (musculoskeletal) pain. Strength training can be helpful for your back and swimming is easier on sore joints. Always discuss any exercise programs with your doctor to ensure they are safe before heading to the gym or pool.
Talk to someone
Many people may worry they’ll be seen as complaining, or become a burden if they speak up about their pain. Let your loved ones know what you are going through and don’t be afraid to ask for help with daily tasks that become difficult. Pushing yourself too far can cause further injury.
If you are feeling depressed or anxious as a result of your pain, psychological treatment may help. Cognitive behaviour therapy (a talking therapy to help manage problems by changing the way you think) can be an effective way to develop positive strategies for coping with your pain.
Talk to your doctor about your options but keep in mind that some medications used to treat pain can lose their effectiveness if they are used continuously for a long period of time .
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Clinical research shows that a combination of treatments is the best way to deal with chronic pain, so just relying on pain relief medicines may not be the best option.