Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! How to Relieve Chronic Pain
Ignoring Chronic Pain
But keeping a stiff upper lip can be disastrous: Recent studies show that pain that lingers untreated for more than three months can actually change the hard wiring in the brain, triggering permanent changes in the way the body responds to pain signals. This both intensifies the experience of pain and risks making the condition chronic. "If pain is not nipped in the bud with aggressive treatment, it becomes much more difficult to treat," Dr. Young says.
Fortunately, a growing number of doctors recognize that pain is a debilitating medical condition in itself and sometimes must be treated separately from what triggered it. What's more, some insurance companies may cover the costs of pain-management programs. And in California, to get their license renewed physicians need to take a course in pain management, which enhances their ability to keep acute pain from becoming chronic.
If you sense that you might be developing a chronic pain problem that your current pain regimen hasn't been able to stave off, start by asking your primary-care physician to refer you to a pain specialist or clinic. If your doctor doesn't know one, look for a pain-treatment center at local hospitals or medical centers.
Although there isn't one magic pill that will vanquish acute, recurrent, or chronic pain, doctors now have a broad array of options that blend alternative therapies with traditional medicine. "We can't cure chronic pain," says Anthony H. Guarino, MD, a pain-management specialist at the Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis, "but we can manage it and greatly improve a patient's quality of life."
Janine Willis has benefited from the new focus on pain management. In March 2005 doctors at the Stanford University Pain Management Center, in Stanford, California, implanted a nerve stimulator in her spine to block the transmission of pain signals. "Now my pain is tolerable," she says. "I'm thankful every day that my husband and kids didn't give up on me. I can now enjoy their soccer games, make sure everyone has clean laundry, and do all those little things you take for granted to be sure your family is comfortable."
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