Pain is normal, something we all experience frequently. Pain can be the result of injury or a symptom of illness or imbalance in the nervous system. As unpleasant as it is, pain is an important sensation. It lets you know there is a problem in your body that needs attention.
In about 20% of Australian adults, however, pain persists for months, sometimes years, beyond what would be expected. Pain that persists for at least three months is considered chronic pain, and is estimated to cost the Australian economy more than $34 billion every year, as well as decreasing the quality of life for sufferers and taking a toll on their families. When this occurs, pain is no longer useful, but becomes a problem all its own.
Who experiences chronic pain
A little more than a third of chronic pain begins after an injury, while about another third are never able to identify the reason for their pain. The remainder of chronic pain sufferers experience pain as a result of musculoskeletal conditions, degenerative conditions like arthritis, cancer, and pain after surgery.
Women aged 50-54 are the most likely to experience chronic pain, followed by men aged 55-59. Overall, women are somewhat more likely to experience chronic pain than men.
Chronic pain is a risk factor
Many sufferers of chronic pain experience sleep disturbances, and sufferers are at increased risk of depression and anxiety. Chronic pain can make it difficult to engage in physical activity, as the sufferer worries exercise might make the pain worse. As a result, many sufferers gain weight.
In addition to the problem associated with chronic pain itself are problems associated with common treatments for pain. Chronic pain is often treated with narcotics, nonsteroidal antiinflammatories, or other medications, all of which can have side effects, including liver damage and rebound pain.
News regarding chronic pain
New research reveals that chronic pain may have a hereditary component. A recent study published the the journal PAIN found that children of people with chronic pain are somewhat more likely to experience chronic pain themselves later in life. It is unclear how chronic pain might run in families, but researchers suggest a possible combination of factors. Some of these include genetic predisposition to low pain tolerance, influences on early neurological development from living in a household with a chronic pain sufferer, exposure to stressful environment, and learned behaviors. Researchers hope that these new insights might guide future research into preventing and treating chronic pain.
Other recent studies have been conducted in which scanning technologies are being used to create models of how the brain processes pain signals. These studies have found that pain stimulates at least three separate areas in the brain’s cortex. Similar research has found that reducing or eliminating perception of pain through hypnosis can dramatically reduce activity in these areas.
The pain response does not just take place in the brain, but at a cellular level as well. Research shows that injury affects the entire nervous system, causing nerve cells to establish new connections and interrupting substances associated with cell function. Accumulation of these substances may increase pain sensitivity.
The good news is, with the help of biofeedback, neurofeedback, transcranial direct current stimulation, and other brain based therapies, many cases of chronic pain can be managed, sometimes without medication. As scientists continue to discover more about how pain influences the brain, more targeted therapies can treat chronic pain even more effectively.
If you suffer from chronic pain, call Perth Brain Centre on (08) 6500 3277 now to arrange an appointment to find out how we can help you.