I still remember the first thing said at my two-month pain clinic. This could be partly due to the fact I took it twice (due to my father’s passing); however, it is mostly because of the impact that it made on all of us.
“You are not here for us to help you get rid of your pain. If that was possible, you wouldn’t be here. We are here to help you manage that pain and have a better life in spite of it.”
Acute pain is what you get when you break a leg, have a headache or need your appendix removed. It is there to warn you of some danger or issue that needs to be looked after. When you put your hand on something hot you feel burning pain and usually remove it pretty quickly so you do not get severely burned. This is your brain receiving a signal from the hand that something bad is about to happen and the brain gives a pain response for you to get that hand out of there!
This type of pain is finite. It has a beginning and an end to it. Sometimes it takes a long time to find an end, but it will be there eventually.
- If you stub your toe, it hurts for a short time but will go away and reminds you to watch where you are going, to wear shoes, etc. If the pain continues and/or worsens, you go see if it is broken or sprained.
- If you have a pain in your right side and is intense you go to the doctor or ER to make sure it isn’t gallbladder, appendix, kidney stones, or anything else that may need immediate treatment.
- A migraine can tell you that you have eaten something you shouldn’t, you are under too much stress or even that you have a sinus infection (Migraines can also be chronic).
- A broken limb needs to be put in a cast, and sometimes even operated on, and left to heal. Pain reminds you to not use it until it is better.
- A baby cries when it is teething or has other pain. Because they can’t tell you what is wrong, their tears let you know they need help.
- Angina pain is a warning sign that there may be more serious heart problems.
There are many other examples, but I am sure you get the picture.
Chronic pain, however, is not in itself life-threatening.
According to WebMD,
“Doctors often define chronic pain as any pain that lasts for 3 to 6 months or more.” While with acute pain the messages to the brain stop when the danger is over or the problem has healed, those messages keep going causing the pain to continue. Many chronic pain patients (myself included) have to deal with this pain for the rest of their lives.”
There are many conditions that cause or are related to chronic pain.
- Arthritis – osteo, rheumatoid, etc.
- Colitis and Chrons, IBD
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Sciatica and other nerve conditions
- And many others
Unfortunately for many chronic pain suffers, some doctors have difficulty separating chronic and acute pain. This results in acute conditions not being quickly diagnosed, being misdiagnosed, or being ignored altogether. It can also cause stereotyping. I have been labeled at the ER more than once as a “drug seeker” when I have no desire for more pain meds. I just want to make sure I don’t have anything seriously wrong.
And I am not alone. After all, chronic conditions are also referred to as “invisible illness”.