Understanding the Continuum of Pain
For people living with chronic pain, they learn how to become very attuned to the messages their bodies send out. These messages can come in the form of budding discomfort, tension, or inflammation that serves as a cue to slow down and revise the pace of daily activities. Other messages, like pain flair ups can be swift and debilitating, and can result in interrupted sleep, cancellation of plans, missed work, and so on. There is something called the “continuum of pain” that pain patients become very familiar with and often serves as a gauge for measuring their level of suffering. However, the traditional biomedical model of pain management typically focuses exclusively on physical pain. But pain is a complex phenomenon and encompasses more than just physical pain; there is an “invisible” continuum that distorts a person’s perception of pain and increases suffering.
Looking for resources to help you manage suffering associated with chronic pain? Contact us to learn more about how we can help you find new and sustainable solutions for chronic pain management.
Continuum of Pain
If you were to look up “continuum of pain,” you would see articles similar to our description below. The continuum of pain starts with an absence of pain and progresses in severity until reaching severe chronic pain.
A pain condition may progress in severity in a linear fashion as sown below.
Example: A person could be completely pain free until one day they experience some mild abdominal discomfort. This discomfort may be ignored until it worsens, progressing into moderate soreness and eventually constant aching. This individual would then likely visit a doctor or specialist to explore their symptoms and get to the root cause, which in this example is an autoimmune disorder like Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Usually pain is regarded as chronic when it lasts or recurs for more than 3 to 6 months.
In other cases of chronic pain, some individuals may already be living with some form of discomfort or soreness, but it is not impacting their overall quality of life. The initial pain could result from a previous injury, a chronic illness, or merely due to aging. Often there is some type of incident that catapults them to the end of the continuum: constant nagging pain or severe chronic pain.
Example: A college-aged athlete lives with moderate shoulder soreness after years of playing football in high school. Although he no longer competes in sports with a team, he still regularly goes to the gym to exercise. One day during his exercise he feels a tear in his shoulder, and upon medical investigation doctors discover a ligament tear and recommends surgery. The surgery is intended to help prevent future tears or dislocations, but resulted in loss of range of motion and increased levels of pain.
These examples are similar to the stories we hear from the patients entering our program. There is a traumatic incident that occurs resulting in a chronic pain condition; this event could be an injury, accident, diagnosis that may or may not be complicated by a preexisting trauma history.
Not satisfied with your current pain management? Learn more about the effectiveness of your current pain management plan with our Pain and Suffering Survey.
The Invisible Continuum
Coming to terms with a new chronic pain diagnosis can be extremely overwhelming. Many people feel as if their identity has been stripped away, and find it difficult to contemplate a life of constant pain. The trauma of an accident or diagnosis coupled with constant pain often leads to mental health disorders. Co-occurring psychological conditions are not uncommon in chronic pain conditions. However, most doctors and pain management physicians are ill-equipped to help pain patients manage symptoms of anxiety, depression, as well as sleep disorders. Even less emphasis is placed on how chronic pain can lead to social and spiritual suffering.
Psychological, social and spiritual pain are part of the invisible continuum that has the power to distort and increase our perceptions of pain. We will be exploring this continuum throughout the month of September, so stay tuned!
Psychological, Social, and Spiritual Pain
When patients become depressed, consumed with anxiety, or are unable to get quality rest because of their condition, many become hyper-focused on their pain. These states of mind and the exclusive focus on physical pain all contribute to the experience of psychological suffering. This in turn puts tension on relationships with family and friends, fueling isolative tendencies.
Isolation and the stress that living with a chronic pain condition brings to relationships has a huge impact on an individual’s social life. When the patient is initially diagnosed, family and friends are there to offer their support in any way. However, over time family members become burnt out and friends slowly stop making the effort to include stay involved. The one living in pain watches the world continue on without missing a beat while they struggle to get through their painful day. This only magnifies psychological symptoms of suffering, and causes many to lose hope that they would be able to regain a higher quality of life.
Loss of hope is a common theme influencing spiritual pain. Many who have an existing spiritual relationship use that connection as a rock in times of uncertainty. After facing the trauma of a chronic pain diagnosis, some feel as if they have been forgotten and their faith in a higher power becomes eroded by their experience of pain. Spirituality is an important resource in the management of chronic pain, and one that can provide the strength to carry on one day at a time.
Related article: The Role of Spirituality in Chronic Pain Management
More soon to come
Throughout the month of September, we will continue to explore the continuum of pain and concepts of psychological, social, and spiritual pain. Stay tuned and remember to share this article by clicking on your favorite social media platform below!