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Common Contributors to Chronic Pain

Most people experience pain following an injury or in response to some health conditions, but it usually goes away with appropriate treatment. Pain that lasts at least around three to six months meets the criteria for chronic pain, which is one of the most common reasons adults seek medical care. 

Over 20% of the United States population suffers from chronic pain. Chronic pain varies from person to person and can feel like aching, burning or other painful sensations. There are many different causes of chronic pain, from arthritis and strenuous exercise that can cause chronic joint pain, to fibromyalgia and other chronic illnesses.

However, there are a few contributors to chronic pain that are more common than others. Here’s what you need to know about contributors to chronic pain.


Being Overweight

Researchers have found a connection between obesity and chronic pain. Excess weight on the joints from obesity may cause osteoarthritis. Symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • Knee, hip, or lower back pain
  • Joint swelling
  • Joint stiffness, especially after resting 
  • Feeling of looseness or instability in the affected joint
  • Hearing a grinding sound during movement 

Lifestyle changes may help reduce arthritis pain. Most doctors recommend weight loss and physical therapy to reduce stress on the joints and strengthen muscles. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen may also be effective for managing arthritis pain in addition to warm and cool compresses.


Common illnesses that contribute to chronic pain

Chronic pain isn’t only caused by physical ailments like injuries, arthritis and excess body weight. There are numerous diseases and illnesses that also cause chronic pain. Some of these diseases are genetic, like lupus, while others are the result of lifestyle choices or infections. Here are some of the most common illnesses linked to chronic pain. 

Lyme disease

Many people get Lyme disease after a bite from an infected tick in grassy or wooded areas. The most common symptoms are a bullseye rash, fever, swollen lymph nodes and body aches.

Preventing tick bites is the best way to avoid getting Lyme disease. Wear long sleeves and pants, and use insect repellent when you’re outdoors. Inspect yourself for ticks when you’re ready to go inside, but don’t worry if you find one! Removing a tick within 24 hours greatly reduces your risk for contracting Lyme disease, and a healthcare provider can prescribe a course of antibiotics if needed.

Diabetes

When blood sugar levels get too high, it can damage nerve endings and cause diabetic neuropathy, also known as diabetic nerve pain. About half of all people who have diabetes suffer from diabetic nerve pain. People with diabetes can prevent diabetic nerve pain by managing their condition appropriately. Take any medications as prescribed by your doctor and follow a healthy diet. 

People who already have diabetic nerve pain may find relief with OTC pain medication or prescription drugs under the guidance of a physician. For more severe cases, a doctor may recommend more invasive treatment options.

Cancer

Depending one the type of cancer someone has, it can cause a great deal of pain. The severity of cancer pain varies, and sensations may be dull, achy or sharp. Surgery, radiation, and anesthesia are among the accepted treatment options for managing cancer pain. 

Shingles

Shingles occurs when the chickenpox virus re-emerges after lying dormant for several years. It causes a painful rash on one side of the face or body that scabs over. Before the rash appears, the virus may cause pain, itching, or tingling in the area where the rash will develop. Other symptoms include fever, headache, chills and an upset stomach. 

Antiviral medication decreases the length and severity of shingles. You can  alsoprevent shingles by getting vaccinated. Some people who get shingles develop persistent nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia. This pain at the site of the rash can last for years after shingles goes away. Prescription drugs may help manage the pain, and early treatment lowers the risk of this chronic pain syndrome.

Gum disease

You’ve probably heard your dentist’s warnings about the risks of gum disease, like tooth loss and heart disease. Did you know it can also cause chronic mouth pain?

People get gum disease when food, bacteria and other debris collect along the gum line. It causes swelling, bloody gums, bad breath, pain and sensitivity. Most dentists treat gingivitis with dental cleanings and a prescription for antibiotics if needed. Regular brushing and flossing are effective ways to prevent gum disease, as well as avoiding smoking and excess sugar. If your gum disease seems to advance despite your efforts, you should consider seeing a periodontal specialist.


Poor posture

Good posture is important because it allows the body to stay flexible, reduces fatigue, and facilitates good balance. Everyone’s posture is different, but having a neutral spine reduces stress on your joints. Bad posture may cause muscle strain, low back pain or even digestive issues. It can also make you more prone to injury. The most common types of bad posture are: slouching, sitting with crossed legs, not keeping your head level, focusing body weight on heels or toes, and standing with feet more or less than shoulder width apart. 

Seeing a doctor can help address the underlying causes of bad posture. They may recommend pain medication, physical therapy or simple changes to your work environment. If you’re trying to improve your posture, try these tips:

  • Switch positions often while sitting
  • Stretch to relieve muscle tension
  • Support your back, thighs, and hips while sitting
  • Stand with your shoulders back and head level
  • Use an ergonomic desk or chair

Traumatic injury

Brain and spinal injuries, burns, broken bones or other traumatic injuries can result in chronic pain. Amputation poses an additional challenge because many amputees experience phantom limb pain. (This causes a varying degree of chronic pain where the amputated limb once was.)

Avoiding traumatic injuries isn’t always possible, but you can take actions to reduce your risk, like wearing a seatbelt in the car, practicing safety when handling fire or cooking, and being aware of your surroundings. 


Underlying health conditions

Not every case of chronic pain is avoidable. And at times, it can be hard to diagnose. Your chronic pain could be caused by a genetic disorder like sickle cell disease, which lowers your number of red blood cells, or endometriosis, a painful uterine disease. Doctors understand the pathology of many of these diseases, but others, like fibromyalgia, are a bit of a mystery. 

There may also be more than one condition causing your chronic pain. Discuss all of your symptoms with your doctor to get the best care possible. Treating each condition is important to improving your quality of life.


Tips for managing chronic pain

Talk to your primary care provider (PCP) if you’re experiencing chronic pain. They’ll ask questions about your pain and perform an exam to find the cause. Everyone experiences chronic pain differently, so treatment plans vary widely. Keep the lines of communications open with your PCP so they can adjust your treatment as necessary. 

If your chronic pain doesn’t respond to OTC pain medication or other recommendations from your PCP, you may need to see a chronic pain specialist who can provide more advanced treatment options. They may suggest acupuncture, specialized medications or even surgery depending on your individual needs.


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