Chronic Pain: What is it? What are the causes and symptoms?
Chronic pain is pain that lasts for a long time — months or years. It can happen anywhere in the body. The pain can be there all the time, or it may come and go. Chronic pain can interfere with your daily activities, such as working, having a social life and taking care of yourself or others. It can lead to depression, anxiety and trouble sleeping, which can make pain worse. This response creates a cycle that’s difficult to break.
What’s the difference between chronic pain and other pain?
Chronic pain differs from another type of pain called acute pain. Acute pain happens when something hurts you. It doesn’t last long, and it goes away after your body heals from whatever caused the pain. In contrast, chronic pain continues long after you recover from an injury or illness. Sometimes it even happens for no obvious reason.
What causes chronic pain?
Sometimes chronic pain has an obvious cause. You may have a long-lasting illness such as arthritis or cancer that can cause ongoing pain. But injuries and diseases can also cause changes to your body that leave you more sensitive to pain. These changes can stay in place even after you’ve healed from the original injury or disease. So, something like a sprain, a broken bone or a brief infection can leave you with chronic pain.
Some people also have chronic pain that’s not tied to an injury or physical illness. Healthcare providers call this response psychogenic pain or psychosomatic pain. It’s caused by psychological factors such as stress, anxiety and depression. Many scientists believe this connection comes from low levels of endorphins in the blood. Endorphins are natural chemicals that trigger positive feelings.
It’s possible to have several causes of pain overlap. For example, you could have two different diseases. Or you could have something like migraines and psychogenic pain together. In many cases, however, the source of chronic pain can be a very complex and even mysterious issue to untangle. Although it may begin with an injury or illness, ongoing pain can develop a psychological dimension after the physical problem has healed. This fact alone makes pinning down a single course of treatment problematic, and it is why health care providers often find they have to try a number of different types of curative steps.
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Chronic pain can come in many different forms and appear across the body:
What does chronic pain feel like?
People with chronic pain describe it in many different ways, such as:
Chronic pain often leads to other symptoms and problems, too:
Chronic pain is a major global health issue, affecting about one in four adults and a similar number of youths. Chronic pain has a number of negative physical, psychological and social consequences in the life for those with this condition. The costs of chronic pain to society are enormous, and include both direct (e.g., medical expenses) as well as indirect costs [e.g., expenses associated with work absenteeism, hiring somebody to take care of the patients, or travel costs to receive treatment. For most individuals with chronic pain, the available treatments do not provide adequate relief and are generally unable to prevent new episodes.
The most common treatment for those who suffer from chronic pain is for their health care provider to recommend certain medications to relieve chronic pain:
Non-opioid options for managing chronic pain are as follows:
All of the treatments listed above are viable options with regards to chronic pain management but did you know that pain is actually sensed in the brain? As this illustration below shows the brain is ultimately in charge of how pain is perceived and localized.
How does biofeedback help patients cope with chronic pain?
There are 3 stages that occur during the biofeedback training.
Neurofeedback also known as neurotherapy, involves electroencephalogram (EEG) biofeedback or brainwave biofeedback, which measures the electrical activity of the brain. Neurofeedback (NF) is a non-invasive treatment that targets brain activity. It is a type of biofeedback that provides real-time information to patients about their brain activity, allowing them to learn how to directly change this activity in ways that may lead to improved health and comfort. NF can be performed either by using brain activity measured via EEG or functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). The EEG approach is used much more often, because EEG biofeedback technology is more accessible and less expensive. With EEG-based NF, one or more electrodes are placed on the patient’s scalp to measure the amplitude (also referred to as “power”) of oscillatory activity in different frequency bandwidths. The raw electrical signal represents the collective activity of millions of neurons in the cortex, just below the electrode. This signal is analyzed and aspects of that electrical brain activity are fed back to the patient. Normally, EEG-based NF targets a change in the power of activity in specific oscillation bandwidths whereas fMRI-based NF targets changes in the blood oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) activity in regions of interest in the brain.
Whether NF is conducted with EEG or fMRI, measured changes in brain activity are fed back to the patient. Often, but not always, the feedback is provided via a game. For example, a program might allow the patient to “fly” a plane when he or she makes a change in the targeted brain activity (e.g., an increase in alpha power as measured over the sensory cortex). The plane will fly smoothly as long as the targeted brain activity is in the direction of the training criteria established by the therapist, whereas the plane might drop or otherwise malfunction if the brain activity falls outside of the training range. This feedback influences and progressively helps the patient learn to change brain activity via operant conditioning. It is important to understand that changes in brain activity often take a relatively long time to occur with NF treatment; a full course of NF treatment is normally comprised of 40–50 sessions of 20–50 min each.
In the context of pain treatment, NF aims to change brain activity that is thought to underlie or influence the experience of pain. The findings from a number of research studies provide preliminary support for the efficacy of NF for reducing pain in clinical samples. The findings from a recent systematic review conducted in 2020 on Neurofeedback for Pain Management indicated that NF procedures have the potential for reducing pain and improving other related outcomes in individuals with chronic pain.
Breathwork Therapy for chronic pain. We don’t think much about breathing, mostly because we don’t have to. This autonomic reflex occurs in healthy adults whether or not we consider what’s going on when we inhale or exhale. But breath is a remarkable tool we can use to heal a variety of conditions. Breathwork for chronic pain is just one way you can use your own body to heal itself. Breathwork describes a group of exercises that teach you to manipulate your breathing rate and depth with the goal of bringing awareness to your breath and ultimately providing the same benefits you might get from a meditative practice. Clients will be taught a wide variety of different breathing techniques, programs and exercises. Most formal practices involve 20 minutes to an hour of sustained, rhythmic breathing techniques.
Breathwork techniques focus on deepening the breath in the body. When we become anxious or stressed, we tend to take shallow, short breaths into the upper part of our lungs. The lungs neither completely inflate nor fully empty, leaving trace carbon dioxide in the lungs and inadequately oxygenating the body. The results of this type of shallow breathing mimics the effects of hyperventilation. Our bodies and brains experience a heightened sense of stress and anxiety, both of which can increase pain sensations.
At its most basic, breathwork for chronic pain slows down breathing to approximately half of the normal speed. Breaths begin in the lower belly and gradually inflate the lungs, then slowly release, with the belly deflating last.
Why is Breathwork Therapy so beneficial with regards to those who suffer from Chronic Pain?
The mechanism behind breathwork for chronic pain is not well-understood. Breathing does not remove pain, necessarily, but it does alter a person’s perception of it. Practically speaking, better oxygenation of the blood improves healing, and lowered levels of cortisol and adrenaline allow your body to rest and relax instead of tensing with pain. In essence, breathwork changes not only your perception of pain but also your body’s response to it.
When we engage in deep and rhythmic breathing, we activate the Vagus nerve, turn on our parasympathetic nervous system, and put the brakes on anxiety and stress. As our physiology returns to its inherent state, our mind calms, our heart opens, and we remember the wholeness and truth of who we are.
With the aid of Apps, guided practices, and technological devices such as Oxygen Advantage Sports Mask, Heart Math’s Emwave Pro, and Thought Technology’s eVu-TPS clients will learn how to self-regulate their nervous system at the convenience of their home so that they can improve the 3 pillars of their Functional breathing:
Breathwork is a powerful way to access your body’s innate intelligence to heal itself. Breathwork, the conscious awareness of your breath, is a practice that is thousands of years old, and while there are many variations, styles and names, all types of breathwork offer the chance for personal transformation through improved mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Mindfulness Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy or mindfulness meditation (“meditation”) is a safe mind-body modality used to train non-judgmental awareness and attention to present-moment experience (e.g., emotions, thoughts, or bodily sensations such as pain). Originally developed over three decades ago for mitigating chronic pain and stress.
We start by using advanced qEEG (Quantitative Electroencephalography) technology that precisely measures your unique brainwave activity. It is performed to investigate brain wave patterns associated with concentration and attention.
The assessment usually takes between 3-4 hours and consists of:
Zone Health & Performance Psychology is proud to partner with Cambridge Brain Sciences. They are a leading provider of cognitive assessment tools for clinicians and medical practices, providing scientifically-validated cognitive tasks that produce objective measures across multiple cognitive domains.
A series of Cognitive Performance tests that provide objective and quantifiable measures of:
John Stevenson is one of the most passionate and dedicated professionals I’ve ever met. He provided me with a new perspective and insight with regards to chronic pain and anxiety. He has a genuine desire to help others realize their maximum potential. I would highly recommend John and his team of professional staff to anyone.
I would highly recommend everyone at Zone. They are absolutely amazing and caring. They customize a plan to fit you individually, follow up on progress and keep you posted consistently. This is hands down the best place for neurofeedback ! Very happy with the results and I appreciate every single employee at Zone, including John who provides excellent patient care.
I want to share my experiences at Zone Health & Performance wIth John Stevenson. I had a stroke and my speech was irreversible damaged so I had to remap my brain for my speech again. I worked with John and his staff diligently 3X a week for over a year! It was hard work but it also was fun.My speech has improved so much that when I meet someone that don’t know that after my stroke I couldn’t even put a sentence together! I would highly recommend Zone Health & Performance it…improved my life!
One of the things that makes us unique at Zone Health & Performance Psychology is that we combine these types of Talk Therapies with Neurofeedback/Biofeedback to optimize the nervous system. Our clients learn a variety of Mindfulness-based/Biofeedback tools and strategies to stabilize their mind while simultaneously optimizing their internal physiology and overall health. Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Zone Health and Performance will provide permanent and natural alternative solutions for those who are seeking non-pharmaceutical options to their health and well-being.