Persistent pain affects the muscles, joints and bones and has lasted for more than 3 months. It is a common problem effecting as many as 3 out of 10 adults in the UK. Persistent pain can affect any part of the body and can be felt in one or more body areas at the same time.
Pain can start following an accident or injury but often onsets gradually, without an obvious cause. Scientific research shows that pain that lasts longer than 3 months is likely to be due to changes in the nervous system rather than as a result of ongoing damage or injury. Therefore, tests such as x-rays and MRI scans that look at the state of tissue are often negative or inconclusive and therefore are not often needed. This means that pain is a result of a sensitised nervous system, which x-rays and scans are unable to detect.
What should I do?
Evidence shows that if people with persistent pain engage with simple pain management strategies it can improve their function, mental health and quality of life. This active approach is the most effective way of management persistent pain. Things you can do to help your-self include;
Learning about the causes of persistent pain
Remain active by planning, prioritising and pacing your activities
Talk to friends and family about how they can support you to stay active
Learning ways to improve your mental health
Using meditation and or relaxation techniques
Improving your sleep
Speak to your employer about ways of adapting your role / work environment
The aims of pain medication is to offer relief and then to enable people to return to previous activity levels. Although medication can be useful, it is often not a cure for persistent pain and a can cause a number of unwanted side effects. Therefore, any medication should be carefully considered to see if it is effective. Sometimes it is helpful to reduce or stop pain medication as the costs (side-effects including causing pain!) outweigh the benefits. People should carefully follow advice from a qualified professional regarding the use of pain medication and always follow the instructions on the packet. Remember you can ask your local pharmacist if you are unsure about the use of medication.
Pain and activity
Although persistent pain rarely indicates serious injury, it often affects people’s ability to work, socialise and exercise. Overdoing or underdoing activity can result in increased pain levels because the nervous system becomes more sensitised. This leads to people avoiding day to day tasks because they fear making their pain worse. This reduction in normal activity can results in worsening physical and mental health and can lead to financial difficulties and other social problems.
Pain and mood
People experiencing persistent pain often report a negative effect on their mental health with feelings of anxiety and depression being common. This is because of the way the nervous system responds to pain. Unfortunately, this can lead to a vicious cycle where pain and mood interact making matters worse. Motivation can be effected and people can become withdrawn and worried.