Anyone living with chronic back pain can benefit from a helping hand or words of encouragement now and then. However, it can sometimes be difficult for people with lingering back pain to get the support they need if well-meaning loved ones have misconceptions about long-term spine-related pain. If you’re living with ongoing back pain, you may want to let your spouse, family members, friends, or coworkers know about the five difficult truths about chronic back pain discussed below.
1. Chronic Pain Is Real
Chronic back pain is unique in that there’s not always a clear reason for it, and this is often the case with non-specific lower back pain not related to a damaged disc or another structural problem detectable by an image test. However, the pain being felt is very real and shouldn’t be dismissed as being something in your head. Even health care professionals are working to improve their understanding of so-called “invisible” chronic back pain so they can offer better treatment or pain management recommendations.
2. Chronic Pain Usually Doesn’t Serve a Helpful Purpose
The purpose of acute (sudden) pain is to serve as a warning that something harmful is affecting you, as is the case if you touch a hot stove and immediately feel pain. However, chronic pain often damages nerves to the point where impulses are being incorrectly sent to the brain without a specific purpose. Even if a likely source of chronic pain is “fixed” or tissues heal, other parts of the nervous system can still be affected. For instance, a nerve that was once compressed by a herniated disc may still not function properly even when the damaged disc is corrected or removed.
3. Chronic Back Pain Can Contribute to Other Health Issues
When pain sticks around for 3-4 months or more with no definite endpoint in sight, patients may experience other problems that make symptoms more disruptive. For example, some people with chronic pain may avoid exercise because of concerns about pain or not be as mindful of their diet as they should. Ongoing back pain can also contribute to emotional health issues that change the perception of pain, such as depression and anxiety over the long-term impact of chronic back pain.
4. Chronic Back Pain Can Be Isolating
One of the long-term effects of chronic pain for some people is increased isolation and loneliness, which sometimes happens due to withdrawing from social activities and interactions because of concerns about back pain. Possible ways to manage this aspect of living with long-term spine pain include:
• Joining a local support group or finding one online
• Letting your friends know about your chronic back pain so they can find ways to keep you involved and active as much as possible
• Not being afraid to ask friends, family members, and neighbors for help
• Exploring your options with senior companionship programs if you’re an older adult living with chronic back pain.
5. Chronic Pain Is Rarely Predictable
You may know that certain movements tend to make your pain worse. However, you may still be surprised by upticks in pain at unexpected times. One reason for the unpredictability of chronic back pain is because part of how pain is experienced is based on perception, which explains why two people with the same physical source of back pain may report very different symptoms. It’s also possible for your pain to change over time, which is why it can be helpful to:
• Regularly talk to your Santa Monica spine surgeon about your symptoms and experiences with back pain
• Continue to explore different and newer pain management techniques
• Keep a journal to document your daily experiences with chronic back pain so your doctor can identify patterns that may improve treatment recommendations (e.g. if your pain is worse in the morning, it may be a sign your sleeping habits need to be adjusted)
If you’re experiencing chronic back pain, it’s important to get it checked at The Spine Institute. Dr. Hyun Bae has years of experience in various surgical procedures such as spinal decompression and lumbar disc replacement. Santa Monica patients can rely on Dr. Bae for relief. Call 310-828-7757 today to talk to one of our friendly representatives and schedule an appointment.