Chronic pain is usually defined as pain that persists beyond the normal time that tissues take to heal following an injury. Most soft tissue injuries heal within weeks, although some can take several months to completely heal. If a pain continues longer than 3-6 months, it is usually described as “chronic” pain.
Over time, chronic pain may affect how we function, including our ability to work and our sleep patterns.
The nerve network associated with chronic pain is also linked to those parts of the brain concerned with emotions. So, pain can affect our emotions, and our emotions can affect our pain. If we are angry, depressed or anxious, for example, the pain often feels worse. If we are feeling positive and happy, we may experience less pain and will often be better able to cope. Pain is never “just in the mind” or “just in the body”, but a complex mix affecting our whole being.
How can I help myself?
Everyday activities such as walking, swimming, and gardening have been shown to improve wellbeing for people with chronic pain. Exercise helps by increasing levels of chemicals known as endorphins which occur naturally in your body and act as pain killers. Exercise can also help relieve tension and stiffness in your muscles, ligaments and joints: all of this helps to keep the body more functional. If you increase your activity gradually you can help relieve problems such as stiff joints and weight gain, and reduce the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, poor balance and falls.
Relaxation techniques can help to reduce persistent pain, can reduce muscle tension, and can help to improve broken sleep.
Pain can send you into a downward spiral of fatigue, low mood and anxiety. Talk to someone who understands what you are going through. It can help to see a counsellor or psychologist. Your GP can advise you about where you can find help.
Try distracting yourself from the pain with an activity that you enjoy. Many hobbies such as photography, sewing or knitting can be done even when your mobility is restricted.
Many people find the pain is worse in bed, but sleep deprivation can add to the problem. Give yourself the best chance of a good night’s sleep by going to bed at the same time each evening, getting up at the same time each morning and avoiding taking naps during the day.