Chronic Pain—You Don’t Have to Suffer

Here’s the good news and the bad news: if you live a long life, you’ll probably have pain.

“Our bones wear out over time,” notes Pittsburgh-area anesthesiologist and pain medicine specialist Doris K. Cope, MD. “The bones in our back become gnarly, like knotty old trees. And our discs are flattened like a pillow that’s been slept on for 60 years.”

No wonder we have pain.

“Physicians are now able to treat so many diseases better than ever before, but it means that, rather than dying of infection or complications, people live longer,” says Dr. Cope. “Their bodies are wearing out slowly so, in the long run, this means pain.”

The most common complaints include headache, low back pain, cancer pain, arthritis pain, and pain resulting from nerve damage.

Not all pain is the same:

Acute pain
typically results from an injury, surgery or illness. It’s often sudden and improves as healing occurs.

Chronic pain
is pain you’ve had for three months or more that impacts your lifestyle. Chronic pain means pain signals keep firing in the nervous system for weeks, months, even years. Causes can include an incident—a sprained back, serious infection, or some other trauma to the body—or it may be arthritis, cancer, or infection. And some people suffer chronic pain for unknown reasons.

Cancer pain
is a different type of chronic pain. Cancer pain requires dramatic quick action.
If you have pain, talk with your doctor about what kind of pain you’re experiencing. Your doctor will want to know:

  • How and when the pain started
  • The location of the pain
  • Pain characteristics (duration, frequency, intensity and quality of the pain)
  • Associated symptoms (sluggishness, fatigue, fever, etc.)
  • Pain response to activities.
  • What improves or worsens the pain

“Pain affects everyone, not just the patient. Talk to your doctor. Once your pain is lessened, you and everyone around you can enjoy life that much more,” adds Dr. Cope.