December 16, 2012

What Chronic Pain Feels Like

If you have chronic pain, at some point, you realized part of your body has been hurting way too long. Maybe you have ongoing pain in your hip, and you’re beginning to limp. When you first noticed the pain, you thought it was related to that day you fell on the ice in the driveway. But that was a year ago. Your bruised hip has long since healed, and yet the pain is still with you. You go to the doctor, who takes an X-ray and discovers that you have significant arthritis in your hip, which was probably irritated by the fall, but is a problem on its own.

In another example, your daughter, age 4, comes home from a Halloween party with a crushing headache. You attribute it to a sugar overdose. You take care of her, and she recovers. But a couple of weeks later, she has another severe headache. And three weeks after that, she has yet another one. Her pediatrician eventually diagnoses your child with chronic migraine headaches.

Chronic pain is not only persistent, resistant, and insistent, but it also seems ruthless. It’s always with you on some level. It either doesn’t give you a break, or it gives you very brief respites, fooling you into thinking you’re all better and then returning with a wallop — regardless of whether you have an important sales presentation that afternoon, it’s your son’s birthday, or your plane to the Caribbean is about to take off.

Sensations of chronic pain range from a small, constant ache to excruciating pain. Your chronic pain may feel like one or more of the following feelings: aching, burning, crushing pain, dull pain, electrical-like pain, flu-like symptoms, jabbing pain, mental fogginess, numbness, piercing, prickling, sharp pain, shooting pain, soreness, stiffness, stinging sensations, throbbing, tightness, tingling, or vise-like pain.

Most people with chronic pain experience more than one of these feelings. For example, many people with fibromyalgia have flu-like pain, aching, and stiffness. And people with rheumatoid arthritis struggle with aching, stiffness, weight loss, and mental fogginess (a term used to describe confusion and forgetfulness).

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