Chronic and Acute Pain: Key Differences
Pain, especially chronic pain, is prevalent in our society. In my 30 years of work as an addictions therapist I’ve seen drug fads come and go. Back in the 90s when I was working in the San Francisco Bay Area, most people were addicted to amphetamines or cocaine. It was about 10 years before I began to see people addicted to opiates. Since that time, the number of my clients addicted to opiates began to skyrocket. I discovered that at least half became addicted to opiates due to a medical problem. These people were not people who generally used drugs for recreation. They started off using their prescriptions properly, but they began to take more and more of the drug as their tolerance built. If a doctor eventually cut them off because they were abusing the drug, they tended to seek illegal means to obtain them. Many found it easier to write their own prescriptions, and get caught, or switch to heroin, which was cheaper. Consequently, new therapies are coming out to help people manage their pain. Still the most common way is to use medication. Even with medication many people suffer from chronic pain, fibromyalgia, neuropathy etc.
Chronic pain affects every area of life. People who experience chronic pain are constantly confronted with situations that challenge their threshold for frustration. Pain dampens a person’s social and family life. It leads to feelings of powerlessness. Many people ae dismissed by the medical community because people are told that there’s nothing wrong with them. These experiences can be humiliating, infuriating, depressing, frightening and overwhelming.
One of the problems in dealing with chronic pain is that many times there is nothing wrong that a physician can treat. Pain is complex and is not just due to a medical problem. Chronic pain brings with it many emotions that can exasperate the experience of pain. In our modern age we like to have quick fixes. The pharmaceutical companies want to give us this quick fix. That’s why new medications for pain are always coming out. And despite the promises, they never seem to be able to deliver. There always seems to be some problem with long-term use of pain pills. Non-medical approaches are now being sought out.
Nonmedical mind-body practices have been shown to be effective in the treatment of pain management. Some of these practices can help alleviate pain. Not everybody is going to spend the time or effort required to learn and practice these methods. However, for those who do, they can dramatically reduce their suffering from pain.
Pain is a constellation of physical sensation that signals damage or danger to a body’s integrity. Chronic pain is exasperated when coupled with unpleasant emotions. Thus, pain has two aspects: the physiological side and a psychological side. The objective side is the body’s reaction to damage. The subjective side, the psychological side involves neural input from various parts of the brain which give the sensations context, emotional impact and meaning. This is the aspect we call suffering. And there are basically two types of pain.
There is acute pain. This is a response to tissue damage, and this diminishes as the damage is repaired. It serves the function of telling us that we are injured or that something is very wrong. The negative emotions help us direct away from current and future harmful experiences. It is survival oriented. In acute pain you know exactly where the pain is. For example, you cut a bagel and you cut yourself with the knife. You can look at the wound and you will feel the pain at that site. Acute pain goes away as we heal. Chronic pain is different.
Acute pain and chronic pain come from two different types of nerves. Chronic pain is long-lasting, and it is difficult at times to pinpoint exactly where it is at. One experiences it in a more generalized area. I had an experience of chronic pain that felt for some reason outside my body. My body did hurt, but
I also experienced it as somehow hovering over my body. If I had not known about this aspect of chronic pain, I would probably have been greatly disturbed. Chronic pain brings with it many more subjective experiences. Our emotions, belief systems about ourselves, history of trauma, and our environment help exasperate our feeling of chronic pain. This aspect of subjective experience with chronic pain, many times makes people feel extremely frustrated when they are told there is nothing physically wrong with them. Many medical professionals will look at a person with chronic pain and think they are a hypochondriac. I wish to tell everybody regardless of any emotional connection to your pain, the pain sensation is real. It is important to understand that pain has very powerful subjective and emotional connections. A
How do we know that pain is chronic? Generally, chronic pain persists. It goes beyond what is normally expected for the healing process. Many people are told by physicians that there is nothing wrong with them, yet they still feel pain. This is why chronic pain is such an epidemic in our society because it has very strong psychological and emotional components tied to the experience. Trauma helps perpetuate chronic pain and chronic pain is itself a trauma. It becomes a vicious cycle. The goal in management is to help break this cycle.
At garden gate counseling, we see recovery like a four-legged stool. The legs of recovery stool are made up of the biological, psychological, nutritional, and spiritual aspects of our life. We work on all four aspects to help you recover from chemical dependency, sex, or porn addiction, and chronic pain. We use a variety of treatment modalities ranging from hypnosis, bilateral stimulation, nutritional support, and trauma recovery. Statistics show that people who have a history of traumatic history have higher rates of chronic pain. This is not an accident. If you are interested in looking into our program, we invite you to call us at 303-718-6853. We look forward to talking to you and discussing with you how we can help you advance towards your personal recovery goals.