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Aside from the obvious problem with chronic pain - there are many other downsides to chronic pain that are important to know about. For those living with and enduring chronic pain, pass this along to your loved ones to help them understand and be supportive.
1. Pain is rarely 'all in your head'
People in pain are often treated as if their pain is actually made up or greatly exaggerated. While it is true that pain is subjective (people simply perceive pain differently) and some people may report pain because they have other agendas - for the vast majority, the pain is real and present. It is not made up. The problem is that chronic pain is often caused by types of anatomical problems that are difficult or impossible to diagnose using standard medical tests, and pain cannot be diagnosed like other medical problems (such as a broken bone that can be seen on an X-ray).
Fortunately, most in the medical community are now trying to understand and appreciate that chronic pain is real and needs to be treated and managed differently.
2. Pain is not the only problem - it breeds other health problems
Thoughts and emotions related to the pain also can come into play and aggravate or alleviate the pain. For example,depression, which is a serious disease, can worsen the pain. Sleep problems again caused by the pain, can also make the pain worse. And increased pain usually leads to increased sleep problems.
Often all conditions related to the pain need to be treated concurrently in order for the patient to get any relief.
3. Pain is deeply personal
Everyone experiences and expresses pain differently. Any two people with the exact same health condition are likely to feel and express their pain in unique ways depending on a number of factors. Newer chronic pain theories now have physiological explanations for how and why people experience pain differently.
When it comes to back pain, this is especially true. Two people can have the same type of herniated disc, but one feels only slight discomfort and the other feels intense, burning pain that is unresponsive to conventional treatment. It is also not uncommon that no anatomical cause of the pain can be detected.
Why is this point important? It means that chronic pain often needs to be treated as the primary problem, which is different than the conventional medical approach of identifying and treating the underlying problem causing the pain.
4. Chronic pain is its own beast
Unlike acute pain, which functions as a warning signal (e.g. I just stepped on a nail - better move my foot!), chronic pain does not have any useful function. It just is.
Often, chronic pain is caused by nerves that continue to send pain signals to the brain. When dealing with chronic pain, often one of the most frustrating things is that there is nothing to 'fix'. It just exists in your body.
5. Chronic pain is LONELY
After awhile, many people with chronic pain - especially pain that is caused by a condition that cannot be seen - begin to feel isolated. Here the Internet has done a world of good helping people in pain connect with others in similar situations and find a supportive peer group through online communities of people in similar situations.
Having a clearer understanding of how chronic pain works, as well as the central role that the mind plays in the experience of chronic pain, is becoming more mainstream in the medical community. Patients who start to gain more understanding of their own chronic pain may also benefit in terms of gaining increased emotional support, more effective and sustainable pain management, and even possibly harnessing the power of their minds to assist in coping with the pain.