Pain Relief: What Can Go Wrong?

Written by Rachel Nall | Published on November 24, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on November 24, 2014

What Is Chronic Pain?

Sensations of pain are meant as the body’s protective mechanism. From drawing the hand back from a hot stove to resting a sprained ankle, pain can let you know your body’s limits to prevent further injury. While pain can be acute or short-lived, chronic pain also exists. This occurs when the body’s nerve endings are in overdrive and continue to hurt long after an injury has healed or as an illness or condition progresses.

Chronic pain is a condition that affects the physical body and can lead to mental health effects. Examples of conditions that can cause chronic pain include arthritis, stroke,  and cancer. Sometimes doctors may not be able to identify or cure chronic pain causes. This can further impact a chronic pain patient’s quality of life and cause a number of unexpected complications.

Doctors and pain medicine specialists can work to manage a patient’s chronic pain and minimize the following chronic pain complications.

Depression

Depression and chronic pain share several common symptoms. These include body aches, fatigue, and appetite loss. Those with chronic pain may feel anxious, sad, or hopeless.  

Researchers haven’t found the exact medical connection between depression and chronic pain. However, theories do exist. One is that depression causes the body to release proteins called cytokines. These proteins cause inflammation in the body that can lead to pain.  

According to Harvard Health Publications, an estimated 50 percent of major depressive disorder patients report pain on a regular basis to their doctors. Physicians and psychiatric specialists use medications, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and physical therapy to help patients find relief.

Sleep Loss

According to the National Sleep Foundation, two-thirds of people with chronic pain report sleep loss or poor-quality sleep. Chronic pain can be so severe it keeps a person up at night. Also, medications doctors prescribe to treat chronic pain can cause poor-quality sleep. Examples include morphine and codeine.

The following chronic pain conditions are more likely to cause sleep loss:

  • abdominal pain
  • back pain
  • fibromyalgia
  • headache pain
  • temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome

According to the National Sleep Foundation, patients who awaken two to three times per night due to pain should seek medical help.

Medication Dependence

According to an article in the Journal for Nurse Practitioners, as much as 50 percent of chronic pain is undertreated. A careful balance must be struck between taking medications to relieve pain and reducing risks for physical or psychological dependence. While dependence is relatively rare, people with chronic pain can develop unhealthy addictions with pain-relieving medications or other substances.

Substance dependence signs include:

  • craving a particular substance
  • increasing tolerance to medication dose (when the same medication dose stops offering relief)
  • overuse
  • preoccupation with obtaining a medication or substance
  • withdrawals if a dose is missed or late

Chronic pain patients shouldn’t stop taking their pain medicine because they are afraid of medication dependence. If they can’t find pain relief, this can result in greater complications.

Lost Workdays

According to the American Chronic Pain Association, chronic pain costs an estimated $61.2 billion annually to American companies and workers due to medical costs and affected performance while at work.

Chronic pain can make thinking clearly difficult. The pain can affect a person’s ability to perform standard physical tasks associated with working, such as lifting boxes, using a computer keyboard, or sitting at a desk. Workers may also have to miss work due to physical therapy or doctor’s appointments. If the pain becomes too much, a person with chronic pain may not be able to work.

Anxiety

Chronic pain can be a source of anxiety and fear. Even if a person’s pain is managed, they may live in fear the pain will return. This can lead to anxiety that may change a person’s behavior. A person may be too fearful to try some activities, such as exercising, for fear they will cause pain.

Impacted Relationships

Chronic pain can create strained relationships between the person experiencing the pain and a spouse, friend, or co-worker. Chronic pain can be difficult to express to others, which can cause misconceptions and misunderstanding. Increased incidences of anxiety and depression can also strain a partnership, making maintaining a healthy relationship difficult. 

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