Pain has a Purpose
Pain serves an important purpose by alerting us to injuries such as a sprained ankle or burned hand. Chronic pain, however, is often more complex. People often think of pain as a purely physical sensation. However, pain has biological, psychological and emotional factors. Furthermore, chronic pain can cause feelings such as anger, hopelessness, sadness and anxiety. To treat pain effectively, you must address the physical, emotional and psychological aspects.
Chronic pain is categorised as pain that persists for longer than 3 months and continues longer than the normal expected timeframes for healing from a specific injury. In some cases there is a clear physical trigger for ongoing pain, in others the trigger can be unclear. Chronic pain can be an extremely complex phenomena developing and being maintained from an interaction between physiological, biological, psychological and social influences.
Medical treatments, including medication, surgery, rehabilitation and physical therapy, may be helpful for treating chronic pain. Psychological treatments are also an important part of pain management. Understanding and managing the thoughts, emotions and behaviours that accompany the discomfort can help people cope more effectively with their pain — and can actually reduce the intensity of their pain.
Psychologists can help with pain management
Psychologists are experts in helping people cope with the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that accompany chronic pain. They may work with individuals and families through an independent private practice or as part of a health care team in a clinical setting. Patients with chronic pain may be referred to psychologists by other health care providers. Psychologists may collaborate with other health care professionals to address both the physical and emotional aspects of the patient’s pain.
For patients dealing with chronic pain, treatment plans are designed for that particular patient. The plan often involves teaching relaxation techniques, changing old beliefs about pain, building new coping skills and addressing any anxiety or depression that may accompany your pain.
Having a painful condition is stressful. Unfortunately, stress can contribute to a range of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression and anxiety. In addition, stress can trigger muscle tension or muscle spasms that may increase pain. Managing your emotions can directly affect the intensity of your pain.
Psychologists can help you manage the stresses in your life related to your chronic pain.
Common techniques and strategies used in pain management:
- Relaxation techniques
- Stress reduction
- Distraction techniques
- Mood management techniques (cognitive therapy techniques)
- Activity pacing techniques
- Medication reduction plans (under medical supervision)
Pain management is not designed to eliminate pain, but rather to help an individual continue to live a meaningful life and engage in valued activities despite pain.