Recognizing Chronic Pain

When people begin to feel painful or comfortable somewhere in their bodies, their first instinct is usually to move around or change posture. Fixing a strained back after sitting down for too long can be as easy as standing up for a couple of minutes to allow the tissues to readjust and the discomfort level to decrease dramatically. But what if the same pains keep coming back over months and years, and steadily get worse? In these cases, the nervous system may be becoming overly sensitive and chronic pain conditions may begin to develop, so it is important for everyone to know the signs of chronic pain states.
The occurrence of discomfort or pain from prolonged or strange posture while working or performing other activities is one of the main signs that the feeling may be becoming chronic. As the tissues of the back are overloaded over time through sitting down, if the person does not stand up or change posture, it can cause the muscles and other tissues to reach failure and begin to feel painful more quickly and for longer periods of time. Hip mobility and strength can also be compromised from sitting for too long.
If the pain decreases or goes away after changing posture, it is likely to be more long-term pain than an acute tissue injury. Acute injuries typically feel painful no matter what posture the person takes, as in a sprained ankle or or cut. While applying additional pressure or harmful conditions to the injury will result in more pain, there is almost always a level of pain that does not go away while the injury is healing. But if a rounded back that is painful feels better if it is extended, then it is more likely the feeling of discomfort is more chronic than acute.
If pain is felt at certain times of the day — for instance, in the morning or at night — there is a stronger chance of it being chronic. A sprained ankle will usually hurt all day, while arthritis may be worst at night and a lower back may feel most stiff in the morning. Feelings of pain after prolonged activity may also be a sign of chronic pain developing. Even if no injury or damage occurs during physical activity, some people often just feel sore and stiff in certain joints after exercising. This may be due to increased nervous system sensitization, rather than actual injury.
Chronic conditions often feel uncomfortable or as painful as if the tissues were actually injured. Clinical tests like X-rays or MRIs, however, may not show any sign of injury or damage. This can be especially difficult for the patient, as it may seem like the pain is “all in your head.” After all, if the tissues seem to be healthy, then why are they so painful all the time? Again, this may be due to the increased sensitivity of the peripheral or central nervous system, and looking for damaged joints or soft tissues may not yield results.
Unfortunately, chronic pain does not usually respond well to anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Although changing postures, getting more exercise, and undergoing treatments such as massage or acupuncture may provide short-term relief, the pain usually comes back. However, simply knowing that the problem may be increased sensitivity in the nervous system and not either a mysterious injury that doctors can not find or simply being crazy means that patients can take more control over their lives and how they deal with chronic pain.

In Health