What is a
Chronic Back Pain?
Chronic back pain can be devastating to one’s life. Not only does it disrupt and challenge the completion of otherwise normal everyday tasks, like taking out the trash, it is often misunderstood by others. A fractured wrist can be detected by an x-ray; the flu can be diagnosed and treated with medication. Chronic back pain which cannot be measured or traced to a specific cause results in an endless, frustrating endeavor to find out the reason for the pain, and finally make it go away. Countless doctor visits, tests, evaluations, and thousands of dollars later, there may still be no answer.
Studies show that 11 to 40 percent of Americans suffer from chronic pain, a considerable number. Still, in the past, the medical community has taken the stance that all pain was the embodiment of an illness or injury. Physicians would focus on finding the cause of the pain, rather than the pain itself, and believe that once the cure was found, the chronic pain would cease. Unfortunately, if there was no diagnosis made, the patient could not be adequately treated. Even worse, they were told that the pain was psychosomatic.
A Lifelong Struggle
Chronic pain is often used to describe pain that lasts anywhere from three to six months and continues beyond the point of normal tissue healing times. Sometimes, chronic pain can be attributed to conditions like degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, or spondylolisthesis. Other types of chronic pain have yet to be clearly explainable, like fibromyalgia or neuropathic pain. Trying to live with chronic pain can be a lifelong struggle for many people.
Nocieptors and Neuropathic Pain
Neuropathic (nerve) pain, is very different from other types of pain. Slamming a finger in the car door causes pain when nerve signals are instantly transmitted from the finger to the brain. Nocieptors are the nerves which sense and respond to parts of the body which suffer from damage. But in the case of neuropathic pain, the pain signals originate within the nerves themselves. Sometimes a cause can be identified, but often, there is no apparent reason.
A good example of back-related neuropathic pain is Sciatica. When a bone or disc presses against the nerve root in the lumbar region, pain and numbness is triggered all along the sciatic nerve, from the buttocks to the toes. Pain can also travel from the cervical spine down the arm, or persist long after a back surgery has healed. Because of this, it is now believed that some cases of prolonged nocieptive pain may eventually become neuropathic pain.
The important thing to remember is that all pain is real, whether a link to the pain can be identified or not. If there is pain present, it should be addressed so that the patient will be able to enjoy a life that is as pain-free as possible.