Chronic pain is a wide-sweeping term, often describing pain that lasts more than three to six months or pain beyond the point of tissue healing. Some forms of chronic pain can be linked to an identifiable cause, like degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, or spondylolisthesis. Other forms of pain have no known or understood cause, such as fibromyalgia or neuropathic pain (nerve pain). Fighting chronic pain is a lifelong struggle for many.
Managing Chronic Pain
Of course, the first step in coping with chronic back pain or other types of persistent pain is to receive a thorough medical evaluation to determine the cause of the pain.
- In some situations, such as a herniated disc in the spine, it may be important to pay attention to the level and type of pain so that it can serve as a warning signal of impending damage.
- In other cases, especially when the back pain is chronic and the health condition unchangeable, one goal can be to try and keep the chronic pain from being the entire focus of one’s life.
Whatever the medical condition, there are a number of effective strategies for coping with chronic back pain. These techniques generally include:
Relaxation involves concentration and slow, deep breathing to release tension from muscles and relieve pain. Learning to relax takes practice, but relaxation training can focus attention away from pain and release tension from all muscles. Relaxation tapes are widely available to help you learn these skills.
Biofeedback is taught by a professional who uses special machines to help you learn to control bodily functions, such as heart rate and muscle tension. As you learn to release muscle tension, the machine immediately indicates success. Biofeedback can be used to reinforce relaxation training. Once the technique is mastered, it can be practiced without the use of the machine.
Visual imagery and distraction:
Imagery involves concentrating on mental pictures of pleasant scenes or events or mentally repeating positive words or phrases to reduce pain. Tapes are also available to help you learn visual imagery skills.
Distraction techniques focus your attention away from negative or painful images to positive mental thoughts. This may include activities as simple as watching television or a favorite movie, reading a book or listening to a book on tape, listening to music, or talking to a friend.
Hypnosis can be used in two ways to reduce your perception of pain. Some people are hypnotized by a therapist and given a post-hypnotic suggestion that reduces the pain they feel. Others are taught self-hypnosis and can hypnotize themselves when pain interrupts their ability to function. Self-hypnosis is a form of relaxation training.