Pain is an unpleasant feeling that lets you know that something may be wrong. It is one of the body’s warning signals that indicates a problem that needs attention. Pain starts in receptor nerve cells located beneath the skin and in organs throughout the body. When there is an illness, injury, or other type of problem, these receptor cells send messages along nerve pathways to the spinal cord, which then carries the message to the brain. Pain medications work by reducing or blocking these messages before they reach the brain.
Pain can be anything from a slight nuisance, such as a mild headache, to something excruciating and emergent, such as the chest pain that accompanies a heart attack, or pain of kidney stones. Pain can be acute, meaning new, subacute, lasting for a few weeks or months, and chronic, when it lasts for more than three months.
Chronic pain has been said to be the most costly health problem in U.S. Increased medical expenses, lost income, lost productivity, compensation payments, and legal charges are some of the negative economic consequences of chronic pain. Consider the following:
Two types of pain include the following:
Chronic pain is long standing pain that persists beyond the usual recovery period or occurs along with a chronic health condition, such as arthritis. Chronic pain may be intermittent or continuous. It may affect people to the point that they cannot work, eat properly, participate in physical activity, or enjoy life.
Chronic pain is considered a major medical condition that can and should be treated.
There are many causes of chronic pain. It may have started from an illness or accident, from which a person has long since recovered, but pain remained. Or there may be an ongoing cause of pain, such as arthritis or cancer. Many people suffer chronic pain in the absence of any past injury or evidence of illness.
When pain becomes such a problem that it interferes with life’s work and normal activities, a person may become the victim of a vicious circle. Pain may cause a person to become preoccupied with the pain, depressed, and irritable. Depression and irritability often leads to insomnia and weariness, leading to more irritability, depression, and pain. This state is called the “terrible triad” of suffering, sleeplessness, and sadness. The urge to stop the pain can make some people drug-dependent, and may drive others to have repeated surgeries, or resort to questionable treatments. The situation can often be as hard on the family as it is on the person suffering with the pain.
Chronic pain involves all aspects of a person’s life; therefore, the most effective treatment includes not only relief of symptoms, but also other types of support. A multidisciplinary approach to pain management can often provide the needed interventions to help manage the pain. Pain management programs are usually conducted on an outpatient basis. Many skilled professionals are part of the pain management rehabilitation team, including any or all of the following:
Special pain programs are located in many hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and pain clinics.
The pain management rehabilitation program
The pain management rehabilitation program is designed to meet the needs of the individual patient, depending on the specific type of pain, disease, or condition. Active involvement of the patient and family is vital to the success of the program.
The goal of pain management programs is to help the patient return to the highest level of function and independence possible, while improving the overall quality of life–physically, emotionally and socially. Pain management techniques assist in reducing the suffering experienced by a person with chronic pain.
The philosophy common to all of these varied psychological approaches is the belief that patients can do something on their own to control their pain, including changing attitudes, the perception of being a victim, feelings, or behaviors associated with pain, or understanding how unconscious forces and past events have contributed to pain.
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