Chances are you’ve experienced a painful condition at some point in your life. A broken leg, perhaps, or a burned hand. Maybe it was nerve entrapment from an injury, or maybe it was a serious toothache. Eventually the pain subsided and you returned to your normal, pain-free life. Once you felt better, you almost couldn’t remember what it felt like to be in pain. But did you ever wonder, during that difficult and frustrating time, what it must be like to live with chronic pain that just never goes away? To have your day-to-day existence altered because of something always hurting?
According to the National Academies Institute of Medicine, 100 million American adults are affected by chronic pain - more than heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined. The treatment of pain and loss of productivity costs the nation up to $635 billion annually, or about $2,000 for everyone living in the U.S.
“No aspect of our body is immune from developing a painful condition,” says Dr. Scott R. Ross, pain management specialist, founder of Pain Management of the Rockies and Medical Director for Pain Management at Penrose Main Hospital. “There are a myriad of painful conditions that we can experience in our lifetime. Acute pain may arise as a result of injury, illness or surgery. Chronic pain can stem from a stable or progressive disease process or may develop as a result of medical treatment. Common types of pain include somatic pain. This type of pain is a result of injury to bone or soft tissue. An example would include abrasions, lacerations and fractures. Neck and lower back pain are common conditions, which cause somatic pain.
“Another type is neuropathic pain. This pain arises from injury to the nervous system itself. Examples include Varicella Zoster (shingles) and peripheral neuropathy, which can arise from common conditions such as diabetes or following chemotherapy. Headaches, whether migraine or other various subtypes, can lead to both acute and chronic pain states.”
"Chronic pain," says Lary Lippert, M.D., pain management specialist, founder of Pain and Spine Pain Care Center, Director of Pain Management for St. Francis Hospital, and staff member at Penrose-St. Francis and UCHealth systems, “typically affects the patient for 3-6 months or more. Some chronic pain may result from injury or illness, often the cause is unknown. The presence of chronic pain can have a devastating impact on a patient’s quality of life. Depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and extreme fatigue are just a few of the common associated problems seen with chronic pain. Not only is the patient asked to deal with multiple life changing issues, but their loved ones, friends and peers can be significantly affected as well.”
Dr. Lippert says his practice is dominated by spine pain, primarily cervical and lumbar. “Many of our patients have suffered injuries resulting in pain, some have undergone surgery and need extra help dealing with residual pain. We have a large elderly population that is impacted by degenerative disease and attain quality of life benefits with pain reduction.”
Dr. Ross says great strides have been made over the past few decades in the understanding of pain. “With this understanding, we have developed many procedures and medications that not only treat the painful symptoms but actually address the underlying cause. These medical treatments, combined with self-directed programs such as exercise, can make all the difference in the world.”
Some new and promising options being developed to help in the management of pain, says Dr. Ross, include stem cell therapy and personalized medical approaches.
“Some of the most exciting future pain controlling technologies,” says Dr. Lippert, “are in the field of neuromodulation—using tiny amounts of electricity near the spinal cord to reduce pain. With this technology, specific pain circuitry will be much more accurately targeted.”
Managing pain can be a delicate balance between effective measures and potential dependency. “The specific medications we often utilize in the treatment of pain can sometimes create additional problems outside of the condition being treated,” explains Dr. Ross. “For example, the potent opioid analgesics such as morphine and its derivatives not only treat pain effectively but also can lead to serious consequences such as abuse and dependency. The treatment of pain is multifaceted and really best determined after an accurate diagnosis is made. The specific treatment may involve interventional procedures, medications and self-directed programs such as exercise. All of these components are best managed by a fellowship-trained pain management specialist.”
Did you know …
Recent research indicates that more than 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from chronic pain and approximately 3- 4.5% suffer from neuropathic pain.
An estimated 20% of American adults report that pain or physical discomfort disrupts their sleep a few nights a week or more.
Over half of the workforce surveyed reported having headache, back pain, arthritis, or other musculoskeletal pain in the past two weeks.
Adults age 45-64 were the most likely to report pain lasting more than 24 hours (30%). Twenty-five percent of young adults age 20-44 reported pain, and adults 65 and over were the least likely to report pain (21%).
(Data source: American Academy of Pain Medicine)