Pain isn't so plain and simple. It has levels, millions of different causes and side effects, and varying lifespans — and, for those suffering from chronic pain, that life span is seemingly endless.
What Is Chronic Pain Syndrome?
According to the Columbia University Department of Neurology, chronic pain syndrome is "marked by pain that lasts longer than six months and is often accompanied by anger and depression, anxiety, loss of sexual desire, and disability."
How Does It Occur?
A complex condition, chronic pain doesn't have a "one size fits all" definition or path. However, it's commonly pain from an injury or event that doesn't go away. Dr. Charles Kim, MD, a pain management specialist and physiatrist at NYU Langone Health, says that it can also happen after illnesses and surgeries.
The Columbia University Department of Neurology notes that conditions sometimes linked with chronic pain syndrome include stroke, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, inflammatory bowel disease, certain cancers, as well as chronic fatigue syndrome.
What Are the Side Effects?
According to Mandy Francis, a board-certified nurse practitioner with a specialty in interventional pain management, "the experience of pain is highly individualized, and therefore, often misunderstood."
Because of this, the side effects will vary from person to person. However, Dr. Kim says some common side effects include pain, sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety.
The feeling of pain, Francis says, may be sharp, dull, numb, tingling, shooting, or cause a burning or aching sensation in the affected areas. It could also be steady or intermittent.
"In order to convey this to a doctor, patients are encouraged to specify where precisely their pain is, when it started and how long it has lasted, explain the severity of pain on a scale of one to 10 and what amplifies their pain — for example, when they move or lift objects, or during the night. It's also helpful to know what makes their pain better," Francis further notes.
Is There a Difference Between Chronic Pain and Chronic Pain Syndrome?
"Most providers use these terms interchangeably, however if you research the definitions, chronic pain is any pain that has lasted more than six months, whereas chronic pain syndrome is the 'vicious cycle of pain causing pain,'" Francis says.
"For example, many people experience chronic pain, which in turn can create anxiety and stress. This can increase their perception of their pain and make it worse, thus feeding into the 'vicious cycle' of pain causing them to be diagnosed with Chronic Pain Syndrome."
How Is Chronic Pain Syndrome Treated?
"Chronic pain is best treated with a multi-modal approach," Dr. Kim says. "Incorporating exercise, nutrition, psycho-emotional support are as important on medications and surgeries. Relying solely on taking medications and pills is a bad direction and has contributed to the opioid crisis," he adds.
Treatments like acupuncture, physical therapy, massage therapy, biofeedback, mindfulness, aquatic training, ice and heat therapy, as well as serious treatments like surgery and injections, are all used depending on the individualized issue.
"There are several treatment options that chronic pain patients can choose from, however, at the end of the day, every patient is different and so are their treatment plans. My advice is for patients to consult their doctor to create a customized treatment plan," Francis says.
Francis also adds that she feels there's a lack of treatment options for chronic pain patients, which can negatively affect their lives, and advocates for those suffering through the This Is Pain initiative, a campaign that seeks to achieve wider societal recognition of chronic pain as a disease state, not just a symptom.