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Chronic pain is the leading cause of disability and the primary reason people seek medical advice.
When ongoing, chronic pain gets in the way of your day-to-day activities and adversely affects your quality of life, it’s time to speak with a provider.
The team at Swedish Pain Services offers a variety of options for managing chronic pain, from physical therapy, exercise, and behavioral health interventions to interventional treatments like spine injections, to the latest in more non-invasive treatments and pain medications.
Chronic pain can profoundly impact your quality of life in every way. Whether it’s fleeting or constant, pain can affect your ability to work, engage in physical activities and carry out simple daily tasks.
Studies show that 20% of Americans live with chronic pain, at every step of their day. It’s the leading cause of disability and the primary reason people seek medical advice. If you’re living with chronic pain and you feel frustrated, you have options for relief at Swedish.
“Daily life for people with chronic pain can often be unpredictable and limited,” says Nate Hadley, the lead physical therapist for the functional restoration team at Swedish Pain Services. “One of the most common things I hear from people is ‘My life has become small’ or ‘What energy I have all feels like it goes towards managing my pain.’ People often have to stop important activities or roles in life, and a lot of grief can come with that. Chronic pain can become overwhelming and sometimes cycles develop that are hard to disrupt.”
How to identify chronic pain
There are two general categories of pain:
- Acute pain, which comes on suddenly and is usually caused by an injury, inflammation or damage to body tissue. Acute pain signals to your body that something isn’t right, and it typically fades away as the affected tissues heal.
- Chronic pain, which lasts for a long time, often persists for years and doesn’t always have a clear cause or endpoint. Chronic pain can also be related to abnormal ways the body processing and interprets pain signals, a process called sensitization.
Chronic pain can affect any part of your body. It may result from an injury to soft tissue or bone structures, damage to nerves, or infection. Chronic pain can also be related to ongoing health conditions like arthritis, nerve damage and even cancer.
“Chronic pain acts as a mechanism of the nervous system to guard against perceived danger, which means that pain may not only be triggered by injury or harm to body tissues — it can also be a response to potentially harmful situations,” says Hadley. “As a result, chronic pain may feel more widespread and not limited to a specific area of the body.”
Sometimes, people may experience chronic pain that seems disproportionate to the nature and extent of their physical condition or initial type of injury. Or their pain doesn’t have a consistent pattern for what makes it worse or better. It may even manifest several days after engaging in an activity, and it can affect people of all ages, from children to older adults.
“It’s important to note that chronic pain can also be influenced by our thoughts and emotions, meaning negative thinking and feelings can exacerbate the pain. It’s a complex connection that highlights the importance of addressing our emotional well-being alongside the physical aspects of pain management,” says Hadley.
Hadley adds that chronic pain is multi-faceted and can vary from person to person.
Are you experiencing chronic pain symptoms?
Chronic pain often leads to a cycle of symptoms, many times related to unconscious compensatory guarding and resting in an attempt to decrease pain. These compensatory patterns can be difficult to break, and sometimes lead to greater pain, and more feelings of anxiety, fear or depression. In some cases, a person’s past experiences, including trauma and psychological distress, can cause the brain to become hyper-vigilant, sending more exaggerated pain signals and resulting in greater pain and distress.
Common symptoms and areas of the body presenting with chronic pain include:
- · Burning, throbbing or tingling sensations.
- · Excessive fatigue.
- · Headaches.
- · Joint pain.
- · Mood changes, irritability and depression.
- · Neck and lower back pain.
- · Widespread pain, pain and sensitivity throughout the body
- · Sleep disturbances.
When to contact your provider about pain
The experience of chronic pain is unique for every person. If your pain is affecting your quality of life, causing emotional distress or affecting your ability to sleep, talk with a provider who can assess your condition and connect you with a personalized treatment plan.
Some signs that it’s time to contact your clinician about pain include:
- Pain that no longer improves with rest or over-the-counter analgesics, heat or ice
- A progression in your pain condition, such as a higher level of pain doing activities that previously offered little discomfort, or the inability to function and enjoy the things you want and like to do.
- Pain associated with weakness, numbness in a limb, swelling in a joint, or ability to sit or stand.
- Pain begins to spread to other areas of the body beyond an area of initial injury, such as to the opposite side or multiple different areas of the body.
- You experience prolonged flare-ups in pain after activities or events.
- Your pain condition is impacting your mood, causing excessive worry or anxiety
Access the latest chronic pain treatments
The specialized pain management rehabilitation program at Swedish uses a multidisciplinary approach to give you a broad set of skills to decrease pain and improve your psychosocial function as well as your quality of life. Tailored programs include judicious use of medications to effectively decrease pain, improve mood and improve your sleep as well as education to help you better understand why you have pain and how you can help control your symptoms.
“We work together as a team to support our patients as they identify meaningful activities and work towards their functional goals,” says Hadley. “We focus on reducing pain and enhancing quality of life, exploring all the factors that may be contributing to a patient’s pain experience, such as stress, thoughts, feelings and activities, and take into consideration the type and cause of the pain, as well as overall health and age.”
Potential treatments include:
- Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, anti-inflammatory drugs or topical ointments and patches.
- Prescription muscle relaxers and pain medications such as hydrocodone, tramadol and codeine.
- Antidepressant medications that can help decrease pain or improve mood.
- Anticonvulsant medications for nerve pain such as gabapentin or pregabalin.
- Complimentary medicine options such as acupuncture and massage.
- Physical and occupational therapy for strengthening, ergonomic training and pain education.
- Low-impact exercises such as walking, biking or swimming.
- Therapeutic movement training like tai chi and yoga.
- Behavioral health interventions such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness training and counseling.
- Fluoroscopically guided spine injections like epidurals for nerve pain, facet joint nerve ablations and ultrasound-guided joint injections.
- Neuromodulation such as spinal cord stimulation, where electrical impulses from a pacemaker-like generator are applied along the spinal cord to block pain signals.
Empower yourself with tools and techniques for managing pain
“Chronic pain is a complex condition that affects different systems in our body,” says Nate. “Some researchers even consider it a chronic medical condition with no single solution.”
Nate adds that while there are times when finding relief from chronic pain can seem unattainable, recent research has shown that engaging in meaningful activities can help patients feel empowered when it comes to managing their chronic pain. This could include learning relaxation techniques, sleeping well, getting exercise and movement, participating in social activities, and focusing on mental health to help manage and reduce pain.
“Managing chronic pain is often a process, so don’t be discouraged if results don’t come immediately,” says Hadley. “Educating yourself, adopting positive and enjoyable habits, and understanding that treating and managing chronic pain takes time can all contribute to successful outcomes.”
Sometimes, that may mean learning ways to adapt activities or conserve energy by breaking tasks into smaller parts. It may be learning how to manage stress, anxiety or depression that can accompany chronic pain through mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques.
Or it may be beneficial to develop an exercise program to help build endurance for everyday activities.
Eexercise is a powerful tool that helps us regulate the body and nervous system, Hadley adds. "Our physical therapists at Swedish Pain Services are highly skilled at guiding and coaching patients to develop a strengthening or aerobic exercise program as they work towards their functional goals.
Learn more and find a provider
Seeking professional guidance and support can help you develop strategies to manage and improve quality of life while dealing with chronic pain. The experts at Swedish Pain Services can help.
Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. For urgent, walk-in or after-hours care, visit one of Swedish Urgent Care facilities. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.
Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.