Chronic pain. Roughly 100 million Americans are affected by pain that persists beyond an expected period of healing.
From musculoskeletal pain of the bone to aches in the joints and muscles, chronic pain is one of the most common reasons a person will go see a doctor, according to a literature review published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
The majority of chronic pain complaints concern the musculoskeletal system, but they also include headaches and abdominal pain. “As orthopaedic surgeons, we are experts in the management of acute injuries to the extremities and spine. As a specialty, however, we are admittedly less adept in the management of chronic musculoskeletal pain,” said Dr. Richard L. Uhl, lead author of the study and an orthopaedic surgeon at Albany Medical Center in Albany, N.Y. “Given its prevalence, and the profound economic implications of chronic pain on both healthcare costs and lost productivity, we have a duty to be proficient in its diagnosis and care.”
The findings include:
- Low back pain affects up to 80 percent of Americans at some point in life, and consistently ranks among the top five most common reasons for all healthcare visits in the U.S.
- Chronic knee, hip, and shoulder pain from degenerative processes also is common, as are chronic neuropathic pains from advanced diabetes.
Orthopaedic surgeons and primary care physicians encounter patients who suffer from chronic pain almost daily.
Although non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often prescribed, they are not especially effective in many chronic pain scenarios, the study found.
“While far from the everyday ‘arsenal’ of orthopaedic surgeons, antidepressants and anticonvulsants (medications to prevent seizures) can have remarkable effects on many forms of chronic bone and joint pain. There are many readily-accessible, economic, safe and effective treatments for chronic pain,” Uhl said.
Ways to help manage chronic pain include:
- Avoid reasons for acute pain by using safety precautions including appropriate techniques and, above all, common sense when performing every day activities, fitness routines, or work place routines.
- Avoid smoking, appropriately treat mood disorders and control diabetes and other health issues, which if controlled, may reduce one’s risk of developing chronic pain.
- Evaluate the source of the pain. Chronic pain from an undiagnosed tumor or infection won’t improve until the underlying condition is addressed. “The majority of chronic pain cases are related to slow, degenerative joint processes; nerve impingement, compression, or damage; or simply unknown or unclear sources,” Uhl said.