Pain Centre

Updated 07 July 2014

Preventing chronic pain

Pain becomes chronic once it's been present for six months or longer and because it stems from existing pain, it is notoriously difficult to prevent.

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Depending on the cause of your chronic pain – injury or illness – you will always have to discuss chronic pain management with your healthcare provider as there is no panacea and the methods and medications will differ.

Read: Chronic pain could stem from childhood ills 

Older people are most often affected by chronic pain. Chronic pain can be mild, moderate, or severe, and it is estimated that more people in the US suffer from chronic pain, than those with diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.

There are many different causes of chronic pain: various forms of arthritis, constant headaches, shingles, bone fractures that have not healed properly, surgical incisions, multiple sclerosis, to name but a few.

Read:

Marijuana may ease multiple sclerosis pain
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Chronic pain often develops after an episode in which someone experienced severe acute pain. While acute pain usually diminishes over time, chronic pain does not.

Doctors are becoming more aware of the fact that the central nervous system sometimes responds to acute pain by making the pain-transmitting neurons in the body more efficient. This is all the more reason why an episode of acute pain should be well-managed in order to prevent acute pain from becoming chronic pain.

Strategies aimed at preventing persistent pain can target these processes, according to the European Journal of Pain Supplements.

Important: Do not self-medicate chronic pain in the long term with over-the-counter medicines without your doctor’s knowledge as this could be damaging to your health.

Read: NSAIDs present a heart risk even for healthy people 

Once chronic pain has taken hold (you’ve experienced it for six months or more) it can cause a myriad of other problems, such as depression, fatigue, hormonal changes, muscle spasms, impaired performance and immune suppression.

In the case of acute pain, prevention is easier than when dealing with chronic pain, as pain treatment is given for a shorter period of time, and long-term side effects seldom have to be considered.

There are certainly ways of preventing or minimising many forms of chronic pain. Most of them have to do with leading a healthy lifestyle and taking the appropriate medication. But obviously genetics and sometimes sheer luck play a huge role, such as when two people are in the same accident, and one emerges with several fractures and the other one is unscathed.

Read:

Everything you need to know about pain management
Back manipulation may help relieve chronic pain 
Ancient Chinese pain reliver is rediscovered
Try comfrey for acute or chronic back pain 

Here are some of the easiest ways to prevent chronic pain in the first place
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1. Get to the doctor quickly.

Don’t wait until you are in excruciating pain before you make an appointment with your doctor. Pain is always easier to manage in its early stages, than when you’ve been suffering severely for days.

If you are already on pain medication, and you are nevertheless in severe pain, it could mean that the pain medication has become ineffective, or there has been change in your condition. In this case your pain management regime needs to be reassessed.

Read: How to prevent acute pain

2. Stay as healthy as you can.

Eat a healthy diet, try and maintain an ideal weight, and try to exercise regularly. A brisk walk (remember swimming is a good non-weight-bearing exercise) of thirty minutes should be sufficient. These three things will make your immune system function at its best, and protect your bones (remember to eat enough calcium) and your joints.

Read: Good exercises for back pain

Quick tips:

- Maintain a good posture, as this will reduce the stress on your body.
- Try and get seven to eight hours of sleep every night.
- Don’t smoke and limit your drinking and don’t do drugs - smoking places a huge strain on all the systems in your body, as does excessive drinking.
- Detox your house. There are enough toxins on our environment that we don’t have to add to the burden with which your body has to cope on a daily basis.
- Stop stressing. Stress, just like toxins, puts an enormous stress on your body’s functioning. Find something that works for you, whether it is a hobby, meditation, yoga, pub quizzes, exercise or acupuncture

Read more:

Your guide to pain therapy and management 
Chronic pain raises suicide risk in sufferers 
Shockwave therapy for tendon pain

Sources: helpforpain.com; bja.oxfordjournals.org; prevention.com; European Journal of Pain Supplements
Image: points of chronic pain, Shutterstock
 

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