Pain management is a complex puzzle that requires knowledge of your body and physiology as well as your personal philosophy. Pain after surgery is common and can last for up to several weeks, but if the pain persists and becomes progressive you may have chronic pain.
While there is a not a one-size-fits-all solution, there are two important things for people to do when they are suffering from chronic pain:
- See a physician pain specialist who can make the right diagnosis, the first time.
- Never give up
While this advice might seem simple, it is essential. Perseverance plays an enormous role in pain management. Chances are your pain will subside, but it will likely take time. Being patient and learning to “work through your pain” is critical to achieving long-term relief.
The role of a physician pain specialist is also critical. Physicians have access to a “tool box” that allows them to devise an appropriate treatment plan based on your condition and situation. You should keep in mind that the field of pain management is so well developed that there is never “no option”.
Many chronic pain conditions can be alleviated through a multi-disciplinary and interventional approach. There are often small, measurable goals that you and your doctor can set that will ultimately lead to complete pain relief. Some options for treating chronic pain include:
- Nerve medications (or pain killers) are often used for short-term treatment
- Targeted therapies in which patients receive injections into a specific location, such as their hip, to help alleviate localized pain
- More advanced therapies include spinal cord stimulation which can be used for treating low back pain or nerve pain (such as neuropathies)
Many patients and physicians want to limit the amount of pain medications and fortunately there are other ways to alleviate pain.
- Physical therapy can be critical to rehabilitation. This can include learning how to properly use a muscle group so that you minimize pain or learning ways to be mobile and manage your pain at the same time. For some people, it may be a struggle to work through their pain, but in the end the result is worth it
- Pain psychologists help people to help train their brain to accept that some level of pain is a normal sensation. They work with patients so that they understand it is okay if they do not have complete pain relief
The reality is that chronic pain, left untreated, can lead to anxiety and depression. In fact, the signals travel together and are processed in similar locations in the brain so it is critical to address chronic pain early on. The increased anxiety and depression makes pain even that much harder to treat, which leads to more immobility, and further worsening one’s anxiety and depression—a cycle that needs to be broken by taking a more mind-body approach to pain. This includes addressing the specific site that is causing pain as well as addressing the emotional and physiological issues that may accompany chronic pain. These are issues a specially-trained pain anesthesiologist can help you with.
And just remember, chronic pain may take a while to go away, but the best chance for long-term success depends on being proactive, responsive and not giving up.
Shalini Shah, MD is Assistant Clinical Professor and Director, Pediatric Pain Services at the Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Care, University of California, Irvine and Co-Chair of Pediatric Pain Development program at Children’s Hospital of Orange County.