In the United States, one in five people suffers from chronic pain, which means we all know someone struggling with chronic pain complaints. This pain might be in a specific region, as in migraines or chronic low back pain, or throughout the body.
What is pain? It’s essentially an unpleasant experience – whether that’s sensory or emotional – that’s associated with something that is causing us harm. There are lots of possible causes.
We’ve all felt pain. While it may be unpleasant, pain plays a vital role in protecting your health by alerting you of injury or illness. Basically, pain is your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t right. Pain is meant to make you uncomfortable so that you know you need to do something – or stop doing something – to avoid harm to your body.
If you touch a hot burner, the sensation you feel is your body’s way of telling you to remove your hand immediately. If you stub your toe, the pain you feel is also your body’s way of telling you to stop walking because there is something harmful in your path. Once the injury heals, you stop hurting. But what happens when pain doesn’t go away? If your pain doesn’t improve with time, your doctor may have answers.
Acute Pain vs. Chronic Pain
There are two main types of pain: acute pain and chronic pain.
Acute pain refers to pain that you experience in short duration – anywhere from one minute to three months. It’s most often felt when you sustain a soft-tissue injury or temporary illness and subsides once you have recovered.
Chronic pain is vastly different than acute pain. It’s not a symptom of an underlying problem, it is the problem. Chronic pain is discomfort that lasts for more than three months.
Chronic pain can be constant or intermittent. For example, suppose you have frequent headaches over many months or years. In that case, you are living with chronic pain, even if the pain isn’t always present. Past injuries and health conditions such as fibromyalgia or arthritis are often contributing factors to chronic pain.
When to Seek Treatment for Pain
Most pain is short-term and doesn’t require medical attention. Examples of normal pain include skinning your knee, pulling a muscle, feeling post-surgical pain at the incision site, or spraining your ankle. While normal pain can necessitate a visit to a doctor or the emergency room – such as for a serious burn wound or a broken bone – these are still typical scenarios that won’t lead to long-term, chronic pain.
But if your pain is severe, lasts longer than seems normal, or you don’t know what’s causing the pain, you may want to call your doctor. Some causes of chronic pain that may require medical attention include:
- Autoimmune disease
- A herniated disc
- Chronic migraines
- A compressed or pinched nerve
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Heart attack
- An injury that had peripheral damage or was not treated effectively in time
- A serious infection
- Post-operative issues
Want to learn more? Watch our free webinar on chronic pain.
Impacts of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain can be debilitating, impacting you physically and mentally. At its worst, chronic pain can affect every aspect of your life. It can make you short-tempered and irritable, damaging relationships. It can also impact your ability to work. People living with chronic pain may also experience loneliness, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and increased stress.
Here are the various ways chronic pain affects different areas of wellness.
Untreated and persistent pain can be detrimental to your physical health. Consequences to your physical health include reduced physical activity, which can cause muscles to weaken because they are not being used. When you can’t get the exercise you need to stay healthy and strong, it can lead to increased pain over a longer period of time.
One of the biggest impacts of chronic pain is on your mood. Being in pain can be emotionally taxing, and chronic pain often puts patients at a greater risk of developing anxiety and depression. Chronic pain can feel as though it has sapped all the joy out of your life.
Chronic pain can leave you unable to work or carry out hobbies you once loved. This can not only be detrimental to your mood, but it also brings about financial concerns on top of everything else. If this sounds familiar, it’s time to do something urgently.
Those living with chronic pain can feel like no one understands. It can be a very isolating journey, especially if others around you expect you to recover and start feeling well again, which can bring elements of tension to even your closest relationships.
Sometimes patients worry excessively about their chronic pain. This can take up a significant amount of your thoughts and feelings, leaving you with minimal energy and motivation to learn and retain new things. It also causes brain fog, fatigue, and gastrointestinal issues.
Treating Chronic Pain
Conventional methods such as medication can help treat acute pain. Unfortunately, turning to your medicine cabinet isn’t enough to remedy chronic pain. Instead, a multi-faceted holistic approach to get your body back in balance and functioning properly again is the best way to overcome chronic pain.
Medication can only temporarily treat pain. But this temporary fix doesn’t get to the root cause of chronic pain. Chronic pain often doesn’t respond to treatments used for acute pain. In fact, sometimes these treatments can make things worse. Chronic pain requires chronic treatment.
This is because each person will experience chronic pain differently. The same solution that manages the pain of a broken bone won’t help chronic migraines. Patients have long sought a non-pharmacologic approach to chronic pain. Functional Medicine’s focus on a therapeutic partnership between patient and doctor offers a better path forward for pain management.
Functional Medicine and Chronic Pain
Functional medicine practitioners understand that chronic pain is a unique individual experience that cannot be objectively measured like other medical conditions. A functional medicine doctor will not only take the time to understand the pathology of your chronic pain, but also the underlying symptoms that accompany it.
A functional medicine doctor will listen to your medical history, looking out for specific factors that may be maintaining your chronic pain instead of helping it. This includes your diet, exercise habits, stress, sleep, and any environmental toxins you may be exposed to. The way we live, the food we eat, and our relationships significantly impact our health and well-being.
Your functional medicine doctor will also run tests for nutrient deficiencies, underlying infections, and hormone imbalances to try to identify the root cause.
Functional medicine treats chronic pain by addressing poor habits and identifying realistic lifestyle options that may benefit you, such as proper nutrition, exercise, and alternative therapies. Examples of treatment solutions include:
- Anti-inflammatory diet
- Getting enough sleep
- Supplements such as magnesium
- Movement therapy such as yoga and stretching
- Topical analgesics
- CBD oil
Will Chronic Pain Go Away?
Curing chronic pain is not always possible, given how it affects everyone in different ways. Managing your pain will require a commitment to lifestyle changes. But when done right, a mostly pain-free existence is possible.
Are you experiencing chronic pain? Find out how our team can help.
Tri-Cities Functional Medicine is located in Johnson City, Tennessee, and serves patients throughout East Tennessee and into Virginia and North Carolina. These areas include but are not limited to: Washington County, TN, Sullivan County, TN, Carter County, TN, Greene County, TN, Knox County, TN, Bristol, TN, Holston Valley, TN, Tri-Cities, TN, Walnut Hill, TN, Elizabethton, TN, Greeneville, TN, Morristown, TN, Blountville, TN, Bluff City, TN, Kingsport, TN, Jonesborough, TN, Colonial Heights, TN, Limestone, TN, Knoxville, TN, Bristol, VA, and Abingdon, VA.