What Is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is defined by the National Institutes of Health as pain that persists for three months or more, although this time-frame may vary depending on the condition in question.
The nature of chronic pain may range from mild to severe. It may be constant, occur in regular episodes, or occur in response to specific triggers.
Chronic pain may cause some irritation or complete disability.
Pain related to the spine is one of the most common types of chronic pain. Others include headaches, pelvic pain, joint pain, and muscle pain. Neuropathy, or nerve damage, may also lead to a chronic pain condition.
Causes Of Chronic Pain
There is a wide range of adverse events, disorders, and conditions that may be at the root of chronic pain. Some of these include:
- Accidental injury
- Trauma (e.g. resulting from motor vehicle collision or similar situation)
- Soft tissue conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome
- Complications arising from spinal surgery (or “failed back syndrome“)
In addition, chronic pain may have an onset without an explanation. These incidences may be explained by underlying neurological or biological disorders, such as excessive nerve inflammation. In some rare cases, not even these can be found to be the cause of chronic pain. This is known as idiopathic pain.
Some researchers conclude that psychological disorders, including stress and emotional distress, may influence the severity of chronic pain. Many patients find these are a “trigger” for the onset of their pain.
Chronic pain is often diagnosed based on its effect on normal function, normal movement, or quality of life. These are assessed by medical examination, patient interviews, and rating scales (for both self-reported pain and variables such as life quality).
Treatments For Chronic Pain
There are a variety of treatments for chronic pain available, depending on which condition is present. These include:
- Steroid injections
- Nerve blocks
- Radiofrequency ablation
- Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty
Steroid injections are injections delivered directly to spinal nerves in the back (epidural) or neck (cervical) in cases for which nerve inflammation is a major factor of chronic pain. Steroids may significantly reduce inflammation. In addition, there is the option to include local anesthetics such as lidocaine to inhibit pain. Cervical steroid injection involves injection between the vertebrae (spinal bones) in the neck. In the case of epidural steroid injections, the needle is placed into the epidural space just outside the spinal cord, where nerve roots will be treated effectively. Steroid injections are relatively convenient and safe procedures that may result in pain relief lasting from a week to a month, depending on the individual patient’s response. They may be repeated if necessary for maximal effect.
Chronic pain may have a number of causes, including trauma, tissue damage, and infection. Risk factors such as depression, fatigue, stress, or anxiety may also affect the severity of chronic pain.
Many treatments for chronic pain are available, depending on the underlying condition or cause. These include adhesiolysis, nerve blocks, or steroid injections, as well as vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty.