How to understand pain when you can’t see it
Managing Pain Pain has the power to affect us emotionally as well as physically, and chronic pain can devastate lives and careers. Awareness, support and self-care are all key.
Pain is a universal, unique phenomenon
Pain is a universal phenomenon. While everybody understands what pain is and knows how unpleasant it feels, the experience of it is also highly specific: what amounts to tolerable discomfort in one sufferer may prove overwhelming in another.
"Tolerable discomfort in one sufferer may prove overwhelming in another."
As the body’s normal response mechanism to injury, acute pain results from a trauma or illness and disappears after a period of time. Pain that is persistant is said to be chronic if it lasts longer than six months and can still occur even when the injury has healed.
“Around 28 million people in the UK live with some kind of chronic pain, and about eight million report that pain as being moderate or severe,” says Antony Chuter, Chair of the national charity, Pain UK.
“At times pain made me feel suicidal”
No stranger to pain himself, Chuter has battled with chronic symptoms for the last 25 years. Originally diagnosed with renal colic, the pain of it left him unable to work. He describes how he lost his home as a consequence and his relationship broke down.
“Life just fell apart,” he says, revealing that, at time, pain made him feel suicidal.
"When pain becomes chronic it can lead to personality changes in the sufferer."
One of the problems with pain is that it’s invisible, which can make it difficult for others to accept the extent of someone else’s discomfort.
When the pain becomes chronic it can also lead to personality changes in the sufferer – depression, anxiety, irritability and fatigue are all common. A symptom peculiar to chronic pain is that it also causes the nervous system to become over-sensitised, so that other pains are experienced as being more severe.
Pain has an isolating effect
The overall effect is one of isolation. Friends can get fed-up. Family might stop listening. A situation made far worse if the sufferer feels that even their GP doesn’t understand.
Fortunately, support organisations exist and pain management programmes can be very effective. Chuter pays tribute to the psychological and physiotherapy support he’s received over the years, as well as the pain consultants who got him back on track.
‘It’s a long journey and you have to take care of yourself,’ he says.