PSYCH REVIEW

Cope With Psychology of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain lasts longer than six months and alters how you live your daily life.

Does Anyone Understand?

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One of the most challenging aspects of chronic pain is sharing your experi­ence with a sympa­thetic ear. This is certainly not due to any shortage of listeners. It is more likely because of the innate desire for others to offer simple solutions to complex problems. Being a good listener is now synony­mous with providing an epiphany that rivals those offered by actors in a scripted drama.

Chronic pain is irrespective of gender. A man or woman can succumb to it. From the 6-month incubation stage of chronic illness through the first year or two, many patients exhaust resources in a quest for both conserva­tive and experi­mental solutions. Then the realiza­tion sinks in that this level of pain is more likely a new way of life.

Layman suggestions of teas, vegetable smoothies, or vitamins to improve your quality of life diminish in credibility. Shielding yourself from the onslaught of well-meaning solutions results in an absence of outlets for compassion, empathy, and meaningful coping mechanisms.

Crescendo of Remedies

Dissatisfaction with medical care usually stems from incon­gruent goals. As a patient, you want to eliminate pain. A physician strives for a tolerable level. Medical doctors, neurologists, psycholo­gists, acupunc­tur­ists, physical therapists, fitness trainers, and chiro­prac­tors each offer remedies to reduce pain.

When chronic pain profoundly affects psycho­logical and cognitive interac­tions, it constitutes a serious, separate disease. Psycholo­gists train to assist with the mental and emotional aspects of pain management.

Patients’ threshold for risky remedies increases in relation to the duration of pain. A former protestor of opiates now seeks stronger prescrip­tions. One who originally proclaims, “Anything but surgery” becomes an avid researcher of the latest experimental surgeries. As a patient, you may even begin investiga­ting alternative non-evidence based treatments.

Can Psychology Help Chronic Pain?

Decrescendo of Emotions

A mild-mannered patient can begin having uncharac­teristic outbursts. A delightful sense of humor turns sardonic.

A once vivacious and active person becomes withdrawn as a sense of vulnerability or hope­less­­ness grows—sometimes inversely propor­tionate with financial decline. Pain catastrophizing is a term describ­ing the magnifica­tion of pain symptoms.

Pain transcends physical sensa­tion. There are biological, psycho­logical, and emotional factors. Further­more, chronic pain can cause feelings such as anger, worth­­less­­ness, sadness, and anxiety.

Psychological treatment includes relaxa­tion techniques, rewiring thoughts of impending doom from pain, building new coping skills, and addressing any anxiety or depres­sion that may accompany your pain.

Weighing Risks and Benefits

Medical doctors do not always accurately decipher when anxiety, depres­sion or physical symptoms are motivating patient complaints. In harmony with the vow to “do no harm,” physicians must monitor risks versus benefits when recommending remedies.

Invasive therapies are generally not considered until after an individual endures many months or years of unsuccess­ful non-invasive approaches. Occasionally, during this light-handedness, a medical condition is misdiagnosed and gets worse. Mean­while, the patient adapts to increasing limitations.

A disparity between treatment and results is commonly seen with chronic neck or back pain. Doctors may recommend ineffective over-the-counter remedies or a temporary pain-relieving prescrip­tion. This might eventually work its way up to cortisone injections or nerve blocks.

The human spine supports structures of the entire body. It also houses a signifi­cant portion of the central nervous system. A surgical mistake can potentially worsen the condi­tion by increasing pain or causing paralysis. When the odds for improve­ment are no greater than 50 percent, it is safer to recom­mend exercise, physical therapy or psychiatric care.

Good doctors know how to perform surgery. Better doctors know when to perform surgery. The best doctors know when not to perform surgery.

Chronic pain sufferers often find relief with a support group of patients coping with similar ailments. Those experiencing overwhelming chronic pain at a level that hinders normal daily activities may consider a mental health profes­sional.

A psychologist can both consult and prescribe medica­tion. Do not minimize the value of this avenue of pain manage­ment to feel better.

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