Chronic pain – an explanation

CHRONIC PAIN an Explanation

To many, chronic pain is an everyday (and night) experience.  Unless you suffer from chronic pain, it is very hard to explain.  However, let’s take a look…

Chronic pain is VERY real.

Image courtesy of [George Crux] at

Image courtesy of [George Crux] at

For so many people who experience chronic pain we are often made to feel as if we are just making up this pain that we are made to suffer, day in and day out, or that we are just somehow exaggerating a bit of pain. So, in other words, chronic pain must be made up, right? Not hardly.  Oh sure, there are some people you may know that might complain every now and then for attention. But, for millions of us, chronic pain is real, very real and it’s there every minute of every day and every night. Not just sometimes.  And, we do not make it up.  Believe me, if we could, we would be more than happy to get rid of it. NOW!

Chronic pain is most often caused by anatomical problems, which are very difficult, if not almost impossible to diagnose using standard medical tests.  You see, unfortunately, it’s not as easy as seeing a broken bone on X-ray or physically seeing a laceration.  Currently, medical science just doesn’t have the tests that can accurately diagnose the causes for the many types of chronic pain.  Medical science also has not yet developed sufficient ways to treat and help those of us who suffer with chronic pain.  Further, they have not yet been able to determine any effective ways to manage our pain on a daily basis.  However, the medical community is now attempting to better understand that chronic pain is real and work towards finding better ways to diagnose, treat and manage chronic pain.

Chronic pain can lead to Disuse Syndrome

As I have seen in my own case, chronic pain can often lead to long-term lack of physical activity.  This condition is often referred to as disuse syndrome.  Disuse syndrome can negatively impact the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, neurological, and psychological and emotional processes, and at its worst, it can cause even more problems.  Because chronic pain keeps the body from performing proper physical activity, which we all know is essential for optimal wellness, the overall body functions suffer and the result can be debilitating.

There is a relationship between chronic pain and inactivity.  The disuse syndrome can perpetuate and increase the likelihood of a chronic pain syndrome becoming worse over time.  Therefore, it is important that an exercise program be designed and implemented to avoid the Disuse Syndrome.  Chronic pain suffers should have a discussion with their healthcare provider early on in their treatment plan about such an exercise program. Something I have to say, I haven’t done effectively.

However, I’m taking care of that. I’m going to enroll in physical activities that will not aggravate my condition.  But, activities that will instead help me in breaking free of the disuse syndrome. For me, there are activities such as year-round pool exercises at the YMCA and chair exercise programs at one of the local gyms. Many of these types of organizations have special programs designed specifically for the physically challenged that are geared toward strengthening.  

I plan on lookig into these programs that will help chronic pain sufferers break free of the disuse syndrome and will write more on what I discover.

Chronic pain can lead to difficulty sleeping and depression

Your thoughts and emotions can also play an important aspect as to how you relate to your pain. Your thoughts and emotions either aggravate or alleviate your pain.

Image courtesy of [Ryan Arestegui] at

Image courtesy of [Ryan Arestegui] at

For example, happiness can relieve your pain. Several weekends ago my husband and I were invited to our son-in-love’s parent’s home (no, that’s not a typo, that’s what we call our son-in-law). The gathering also included my daughter, sister and other close family members. As we finished our desserts and sat around the dinner table, we started telling tall tales and laughing uncontrollably at some of this stuff. Some of us were laughing with tears running down our face!  So, for these few short hours, I completely forgot about all of my pain. I don’t remember any pain at all. It was not until the festivities were over and we arrived back home that the pain once again reared its ugly head. The laughter had been like a shot of long acting numbing medicine. But, I regress…


The other side of extreme happiness is depression, which is a very serious disease that definitely worsens your pain. Depression and pain very often go hand-in-hand, especially long-term, chronic pain where no relief is seen. For those reading this and who do not experience this type of long-term, no relief pain, imagine experiencing pain you may temporarily have with a broken bone or a horrible headache and having that minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, night after night year after year, forever… It wears upon your body and your mind.

Further, increased pain usually leads to increased sleep problems, which only complicates matters. There is nothing worse than experiencing pain and then not being able to rest your body completely through relaxing, total sleep. All too often, both depression and sleep problems related to your pain need to be treated concurrently in order for the body to get any relief. 

About six months ago I went through about two weeks of restless leg syndrome.  I was miserable.  I would attempt to go to sleep and no matter what position I attempted to go to sleep in, I just could not stand it.  Often I would find myself only being able to sleep in some of the most contorted positions imaginable, just in order to get in some sort of a position where my leg would not literally bug the  hell out of me. I never want to go through that again, although I’m sure I will, as it just may be part of my symptoms.  However, I pray that I don’t.  During those two weeks, I not only was in pain, but I was depressed and tired from losing so much sleep.  For those of us who go through these symptoms, it wears upon us.  I only explain this in hopes that those who support the pain inflicted, understand just a little more.  I know my husband sure does now.

Pain is personal

No two people experience pain the same. It’s a different experience for everyone. Further, even though two people may have the exact same health condition, they are likely to experience it differently and are likely to express it differently. As research and technology changes occur, newer physiological theories emerge as to why people experience pain differently.

For example, as seen in studies of the same type of herniated disc disease; some patients feel only slight discomfort, while others feel burning, debilitating sciatic pain that is unresponsive to conventional treatment. It is unknown why these patients experience different pain and react differently to treatment. As we said earlier, there is still much the medical professionals still do not know. 

Everyone is not the same.  My cousin and I went through knee surgery at about the same time.  He had great success, while mine failed and I ended up in more pain after surgery than I had before.  Plus, I ended up with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), which is a neurological chronic pain disorder.  Now, we had different doctors and were in different hospitals, so you could blame them.  But, in the end, was it the doctors of was it just the difference between us?  I’d had the other knee replaced several years earlier and that surgery also was a failure, and resulted in two follow-up replacements in a two-year period!  Again, two different doctors and two different hospitals.

The loneliness of chronic pain

Individuals with chronic pain, especially those who have pain and the cause of the pain is unseen, often feel lonely or isolated. Take Fibromyalgia for instance. This is an unseen chronic pain condition. The individual who suffers with this condition may often be in extreme pain, but to look at them you would never know that they have a chronic pain condition. They look “normal,”…whatever that is. However, they are often suffering alone, as people don’t think they look like they have a condition that would cause pain.

I remember in 1987, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). My first symptom was blindness in my left eye, followed shortly by numbness on my left side. My condition was also unseen. This was prior to the internet being so common and available to everyone like it is today. I had no idea what MS was at the time.  I had to read books to learn. There wasn’t even a support group in my small town. The closest group was 20 miles away, Yet, when I went to that support group’s meeting, no one from my town was there. I knew there had to be others in my hometown who had the same diagnosis. But, maybe they just didn’t or couldn’t get to the support group in another town. So, I researched and planned and started a support group in my hometown.

The local hospital in my town was more than helpful in offering a meeting space for my little group. They also helped me advertise and assisted with teaching resources, as there were others in my town that also needed answers regarding the debilitating disease. This little group had quite a few regulars and a growing list of names for the newsletter, which was filled with information for those who could not make the monthly meetings.

For me, my symptoms of MS went into remission in 1990. I will occasionally have recurring symptoms, but I have thankfully been spared the worst. I moved to another state in 1990. But, when we moved back to my hometown, it was great to learn that my small community still had and still does have that MS support group that I started back in 1987.

Again, I sort of got off subject… I apologize. But, the point is, I felt so alone in 1987. I had nowhere to turn for help when I was first diagnosed. Back then there was no easy access to Internet to turn to like there is now. Now, the ease of Internet access is helping people in pain to connect with others in similar situations. So, now it is much easier to find a supportive group of individuals through online communities. It’s as easy as entering the cause for your pain into the search engine and reading to your heart’s content.

However, the suffering is still a lonely, individual journey that only the one with the chronic pain can understand and experience, unfortunately. There are many times that my husband just can’t relate to what I’m suffering. I have to remind him. I often have to say, “Put yourself in my situation” and then describe exactly what I’m going through at the time. It’s not the same, I can’t make him experience it, but I can at least tell him.  It helps a little if you have an understanding partner or other supportive friend or family member. If not, find one.



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