Tips to help understand your pain.
How pain impacts us and our lives is individual, unique and complex. Pain can be influenced by physical, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual factors.
Pain is defined in a number of categories to help understand and treat it. These include acute, chronic, transitional, cancer and palliative pain. See more information and resources on how to manage your pain.
Acute pain is generally related to an injury, surgery, minor or greater tissue damage to skin, tissue, bone or organs. It usually starts suddenly and may last for a minute, or as long as three months. It may be a warning of potential or actual tissue damage and usually subsides as the tissues recover.
Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than three months, or the expected time of healing. It may be connected to other chronic conditions and there is no time limit associated with it.
Transitional pain is acute pain associated with surgery or trauma that carry a risk of progressing to chronic pain.
When should I be concerned if my pain is persisting?
If your pain is increasing or persists for longer than three months and symptoms do not appear to be improving, you may be transitioning to a chronic pain condition.
Other symptoms to look out for if pain persists for more than three months:
- Pain is restricting your movement and ability to do your routine daily activities
- Pain is affecting your mood, mental well-being and relationships
- Medications and therapies you tried are not helping as much as they did before
- Your sleep is being negatively affected by pain
- Pain continues to be on your mind all of the time or causes an increase in worrying
- You are more sensitive (to touch, smells and sound)
If you are experiencing these symptoms you should see your family physician or nurse practitioner to investigate further.
What if I have chronic pain?
For many people, chronic pain may never fully go away. Often it is the management of chronic pain that is the focus of medical treatment.
The good news is there are things that you can do and treatments from various health care professionals that can help minimize the impact pain has on your life, including:
- Self-care strategies
- Mind body techniques
- Medication and pain injections (if appropriate)
The science behind chronic pain
Pain is a communication between our brain and our body. Receptors within our nervous system pick up ‘warning signals’ and send this information to the spinal cord and then on to the brain.
The brain processes this information in combination with other influences (mood, sleep, beliefs, environment, immune system, hormone/endocrine system, diet, context and/or previous experiences) and determines how loud the ‘danger alarm’ should be.
In chronic pain, the nervous system and the brain interpret warning signals differently. They learn to become more sensitive and may continue to trigger our ‘danger alarms’ even when there is no tissue damage or real danger to the body.
Fortunately it is also possible to “retrain” the nervous system and brain to become less sensitive, resulting in less pain.
Watch the following short videos to gain a better understanding of what happens to the body, nervous system and brain when pain becomes persistent or chronic.