What is chronic pain and how should I deal with it?
Pain is something we’ve all experienced and is necessary for our survival. Acute pain warns us of potential injury and is the response to short-term illness or injury. The causes usually can be diagnosed and treated, and the pain eventually ends.
When pain persists, it becomes chronic. The causes of chronic pain are not always clear. Recent research indicates it involves more than just the physical aspects of your original illness or injury. Accumulating scientific evidence suggests chronic pain has something to do with how the brain processes pain.
Medications used to treat chronic pain often target inflammation and can be used in combination with opioids. But these medications come with side effects and potential addictive properties. That’s why we advocate for mind and body approaches to supplement or replace conventional medicine for managing chronic pain.
Lower back pain, arthritis, cancer, migraines, fibromyalgia, endometriosis and inflammatory bowel disease are conditions that often involve chronic pain. Persistent pain can severely limit your ability to function and can lead to depression and anxiety.
What are rebound headaches?
Rebound headaches are caused by frequent use of headache medications. Although pain relievers help alleviate occasional headaches, taking them more than a couple of days per week may trigger rebound headaches.
• Occur daily
• Improve with pain medication but return as medication wears off
• Persist throughout the day
• Worsen with physical or mental exertion
Why do rebound headaches occur?
Scientists suspect the way certain pain pathways and receptors work in the brain are altered by regular use of headache medications. Risk factors for developing rebound headaches include:
• History of chronic headaches: including migraines and tension-type headaches
• Frequent use of headache medications
Any acute headache medication has the potential to lead to rebound headaches, but some create higher risks than others:
• Aspirin and acetaminophen, especially if the amount you ingest exceeds the recommended daily dosage
• Over-the-counter combination pain relievers that contain caffeine, aspirin and acetaminophen (Excedrin, for example)
• Prescription medications such as Fioricet and Fiorinal
• Various migraine medications (Imitrex, Zomig and Ergomar, for example)
• Painkillers derived from opium or synthetic opium compounds of codeine and acetaminophen (Tylenol with codeine No. 3 and No. 4, for example)
Daily doses of caffeine may fuel rebound headaches, and you may be ingesting more than you realize from coffee, soda, pain relievers or other products. We encourage you to read product labels to be sure you’re not taking in more than you realize.
What’s the connection between pain and sleep?
People with chronic pain, fibromyalgia or headaches frequently have sleep difficulties, but that doesn’t make sleep any less important.
Poor sleep or a lack of sleep reduces your ability to think logically and pay attention to details. It also puts you at greater risk for mood swings, obesity, heart disease and depression. Quality sleep, on the other hand, boosts your immune system, intellectual function, overall cardiovascular health and keeps growth and stress hormones in proper balance.
Here are some ways to improve your quality of sleep:
• Go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time each morning
• Avoid napping during the day
• Sleep in a dark and quiet environment
• Exercise daily (but not within two hours of bedtime)
• Limit use of electronics before bed; do not watch TV in bed
• Do not eat large meals or snacks before bedtime
• Avoid alcohol, nicotine and stimulants such as caffeine late in the day
Who can I contact if I have follow-up questions about my pain?
If you’ve been a Pain Center patient, you’ll always be a part of the Mary Free Bed family. We are here to for long-term support of your chronic pain needs, so if you ever have a question about a flare-up or another pain-related issue, please contact us. We’d be happy to help.