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What is Chronic Pain?

What is Chronic pain?

The IASP defines pain as "an unpleasant sensory or emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage". Chronic pain can be defined as pain that lasts for three or more months despite medical intervention and treatment. It usually begins with an illness or injury and continues for at least one month past the usual recovery period.

There are two main types of pain that may become chronic:
  1. Nociceptive pain. This type of pain occurs when there is tissue damage or inflammation. Nociceptive pain generally has an aching or throbbing quality. Examples include sprains, bone fractures, burns, bumps, bruises, obstructions, myofascial pain and inflammation from an arthritic disorder or infection.
  2. Neuropathic pain. This type of pain caused by damage or injury to the nerves, the brain or the spinal cord. Neuropathic pain symptoms include burning, shock-like, electric, or tingling pain sensations. There are different conditions that may cause neuropathic pain:
    • Nerve diseases (diabetes, post-herpetic neuralgia, peripheral neuropathy)
    • Spinal diseases (degenerative disc disease, radiculopathy, failed low back surgery syndrome)
    • Spinal cord diseases (spinal cord injury, spinal tumors)
    • Brain diseases (stroke, traumatic brain injury)
The experience of chronic pain can have a very negative impact on a person’s quality of life and often affects the sufferer’s family and friendships. It can be financially costly, since it forces the sufferer to lose time from work and be less productive, as well as increases medical expenses. Caring for a patient with chronic pain is often a frustrating experience of the sufferer’s physician and caregivers.

How can psychologists help someone with chronic pain?

When pain becomes chronic, it is important to learn ways to manage in order to reduce suffering. Pain may never go away, but it may be reduced and your quality of life can improve. Psychologists can work with chronic pain sufferers in individual therapy or in multidisciplinary teams in pain clinics.

Individual Therapy
A psychologist can help sufferers with feelings of anxiety, frustration and depression, which may have a significant effect on pain levels. A psychologist can also teach a sufferer pain management techniques that can reduce suffering and distress and improve one’s quality of life. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proved to be effective in treating chronic pain and there is also some evidence to support Mindfulness treatments.

Pain Clinics
Pain clinics offer sufferers of chronic pin assessment and possible pain management. Pain clinics aim to improve a sufferer’s quality of life and may offer a variety of treatments to achieve this. Some hospitals offer a multidisciplinary pain program, which is delivered in a group setting by a team of doctors, nurses, psychologists and physiotherapists. These programs teach chronic pain sufferers how to cope with their pain and live a more active life. They are often difficult but can make a huge difference in a sufferer’s life.

Where can I go for more information?

Dennis C. Turk and Frits Winter (2005). The Pain Survival Guide: How to Reclaim Your Life. American Psychological Association.

Michael Nicholas, Allan Molloy, Lois Tonkin, and Lee Beeston. (2006). Manage Your Pain. Souvenir Press.

Margaret A. Caudill. (2008). Managing Pain Before It Manages You. The Guilford Press.

Jon Kabat-Zinn. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. Delta.

Jennifer Schneider. (2004). Living with Chronic Pain: The Complete Health Guide to the Causes and Treatment of Chronic Pain. Hatherleigh Press

Australian Pain Society

Dannemiller Memorial Educational Foundation

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