If you’ve just been diagnosed with chronic pain, this can be overwhelming and you may wonder what comes next. We’re here to help when you are ready to take that next step.
In the last days or weeks your pain consultant has told you that you have chronic pain. After what may have been months or years of symptoms and tests you now have a diagnosis. You may not have a name for your condition, you may not be able to ever find out what caused your pain and this can cause you to feel relieved, angry, sad, frustrated or accepting of the news. This is normal.
The next few weeks will be a period of adjustment. You may be emotional, be confused or want to block out all thoughts of chronic pain. However, know that this website and Chronic Pain Ireland’s other services and supports are available when you’re ready. Remember while there is no outright cure for chronic pain, your healthcare professional is there to help you manage your condition. In addition to medical assistance you will also begin to learn how you also play an important role by learning new techniques and skills to help you manage and cope with this condition.
Give yourself some time to come to terms with the news. Some people tell their family and friends straight away, others wait. Do what is comfortable. But do take time to overcome the initial shock and begin to see how you can move on.
Seek information out at your own pace. Be selective. Reading everything you can find about chronic pain may be upsetting and overwhelming. Use trusted websites and recommended books and the CPI newsletter is a very useful source of information.
Speak to a professional
Your pain consultant or pain nurse is a central source of information for you, particularly at this time. CPI’s support line is also available to listen and talk to you if you would like to do so. You can contact our support phone line and we can talk through any concerns you may have. Please note however that we do not offer medical advice.
Listen and talk to other members at our meetings
Unfortunately, many people have gone through what you are going through now. You are not alone. Find comfort from their experiences and learn some useful tips or find out how they are dealing with their condition.
Self-Management works so when you are ready, come along to our meetings and learn some tools and techniques that help.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is Pain?
Pain is an unpleasant sensation that can range from mild, localized discomfort to agony. Pain has both physical and emotional components. The physical part of pain results from nerve stimulation. Pain may be contained to a discrete area, as in an injury, or it can be more diffuse. Some pains are easy to understand because there is obvious injury such as bleeding or a bruise. Some are less obvious. Short-term pain like an ankle sprain is called acute pain; long-term, continuous pain is called persistent or chronic pain, while pain that comes and goes is called recurrent or intermittent.
Many acute pains are a useful alarm signal that something is wrong. Most minor ones may be easy to rub better or treat yourself; others may be a sign of something more serious such as a broken leg. The pain is useful because it ensures that you rest the leg until the break has had a chance to heal.
Persistent pain is different from acute pain. The warning system goes into overdrive and sends out repeated pain signals which are not needed or are out of proportion so they serve no useful purpose.
All pain signals travel from the painful part of the body along nerve fibres through the spinal cord to the brain. The spinal cord does not just pass on nerve messages but processes them. In persistent pain, sorting mechanisms for nerve messages go wrong and the brain is confused. This may lead to changes in the pain processing system. Cells that were previously “asleep”, may become “awake” and start sending pain signals to the brain all the time. This is called “wind- up” and is one of the reasons why chronic pain does not go away easily, even if the cause of the pain is discovered and treated. This can lead to a long term, distressing problem.
Pain signals are also processed in the brain where they connect with emotional centres such as anxiety, sleep and appetite centres. The brain sends signals back to the spinal cord, which can, in turn, reduce or increase the pain further. Pain is never “just in the mind” or just in the body; it is a complex interweaving of pain signals and their interpretation by the brain.
The situation in which we receive painful stimuli also make a difference to the way we feel pain. In the heat of the moment even a severe and subsequently painful injury may go unnoticed, for instance if we are involved in an exciting sports match. We might not realise how serious a cut is until we look at it. On the other hand, if we are stressed or depressed we may not be able to stand even a small amount of pain, it becomes overwhelming and makes us feel even more depressed.
Only the person in pain can really say how painful something is as pain is personal and subjective. No two people experience it in the exactly the same way. That makes it very difficult to define. Unfortunately, there is more to persistent pain than just hurting. This is unpleasant enough by itself but when it continues for a long time, it can affect all aspects of your life. It may affect your ability to work, your personal relationships with family and friends, your activity levels and your sleep. About 50% of sufferers become depressed and anxious.
2. Is there any medication that can treat my pain?
Yes, there is a range of pain killers, of different strengths, available to treat various types of pain. For detailed or individual advice we suggest that you contact your GP, local pharmacist of other healthcare professional.
3. What else besides medication might help me?
Exercise – even simple everyday exercise like walking, swimming or dancing – helps boost your general health, strength and balance and can also ease pain directly by blocking pain signals much as ‘rubbing it better’ can. Learn more about movement and chronic pain from the experts.
4. How can I get more specialised help if my GP or local hospital can’t help me?
You can be referred to a specialised Pain Clinic through your GP or hospital doctor. There are clinics in all the major hospitals in Ireland.
5. My GP has refused to refer me to a pain clinic, what can I do?
You can ask your GP to arrange a second opinion either from a specialist or another GP. This is at the GPs discretion.
6. Where else can I seek help/information about my condition?
There are a number of voluntary organisations that may be able to help with your condition. We have a list of conditions where chronic pain could be a factor and Irish support groups.
7. Should I have an X-ray or MRI scan?
This is difficult to answer for an individual. In general, X-rays take a picture of the bones. They are used for diagnosing arthritis and osteoporotic collapse, mechanical problems or growths in the bones.
An MRI scan also take a picture of the body. MRI scans of the spine may be done to identify soft tissue swellings or injury and slipped discs. They help identify the level of the problem. MRI scans do not show why someone has pain. Unfortunately, although they are one of the most detailed investigations that we have today, they cannot tell a patient exactly what is causing their pain.
8. Where can I find help with depression?
Depression is a very common feeling amongst people suffering pain for a long time. In the first instance you should contact your GP for advice on local services.
9. What is musculoskeletal pain?
Musculoskeletal pain is pain felt in the muscles or bones of the body.
10. What is nociceptive pain?
Nociceptive pain is pain that occurs due to tissue damage or inflammation.
11. What is neuropathic pain?
It is sometimes called “Nerve Pain”. Neuropathic pain is pain initiated or caused by a primary problem in the nervous system. Examples include, pain following shingles, or an amputation, or spinal cord injury. Pain that occurs in people with diabetics or in patients with multiple sclerosis can also be neuropathic. For more information, we have a guide to neuropathic pain.
12. What is an epidural steroid injection?
Epidural steroid injections are one of a number of procedures or injections that may be offered for some types of back pain. The doctor offering you the injection should give you verbal and written information about it before the procedure is done.