September is Pain Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to understand what chronic pain is, how it can interfere with daily life, and the safest ways to treat and manage chronic pain.

What is chronic pain? 

Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong, and chronic pain is a pain that continues a month or more beyond the usual recovery period for an injury or illness or that goes on for months or years due to a chronic condition. It’s usually not constant but can interfere with daily life at all levels. Most doctors define chronic pain as any pain that lasts three to six months or more.

But sometimes, especially as we get older, don’t we just have to learn to live with the pain? 

You’ve maybe been told – or you’ve even told someone – that the pain is all in their head, because there may not be obvious signs of injury, trauma or illness. At times, it can be difficult to pin down a specific physical cause for the pain, or even adequately describe it to a health care provider or family member. But there are doctors who specialize in pain management and treatment. In some cases, while they may not be able to offer a cure, they can help to improve your quality of life and address the mental toll that chronic pain brings, such as trouble sleeping, feeling tired all the time, mood changes and lack of energy. Remember, when we feel any pain, it is experienced in both our bodies and our minds.

What about painkillers? We’ve been seeing a lot of news lately about the painkiller addiction and overdose epidemic in the country, should people avoid taking pain medication? 

There’s a difference between physical dependence on pain medication and addiction. Physical dependence means your body needs the medication and you have symptoms when you don’t take it. Addiction means you crave the medication, you take it even when you don’t need it and the medication becomes the most important thing in your life. Addiction leads to self-destructive behavior.

What are some of the signs of possible addiction to pain medication? 

If you think that you might be taking a pain medication that you do not need for pain, talk to your doctor about safely reducing the dose. If you become preoccupied with the medication, thinking about how soon you can take more or worrying excessively that you might run out, that can be a warning sign to talk to a health care professional about changing your treatment.

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