I am so honoured to share this wonderful guest post with you all on how important hope is in pain management. I have discovered this for myself so this is a very important topic to me.
Ann-Marie D’Arcy-Sharpe writes for Pathways Pain Relief, a chronic pain relief app and blog. The app is created by pain patients and backed by the latest pain science. The app uses mind body therapies to help pain patients achieve natural, long lasting pain relief.
The Importance Of Hope
One of the most difficult aspects of living with chronic pain is the lack of hope that often comes with it. Unfortunately this sense of hopelessness is often due to lack of effective treatments offered by medical professionals. When you feel that there is no hope of your symptoms being treated or improving, how can you possibly have hope for the future?
Many pain patients (myself included) are not given the treatment they need, despite the fact that there are very effective, scientifically proven treatments available. I was told by doctors that I would simply need to ‘stay positive’ and ‘try to get on with things’. I was left feeling that my chronic pain was always going to be as bad as it was and feeling quite desolate when I thought about the future.
Negative Perceptions Of Pain Influence Pain Levels
Unfortunately how we perceive our pain can have a significant impact on our pain levels! When we feel hopeless or think there is no way to improve things, we understandably are less motivated to try to stay active, to manage our pain and to seek treatment options. When we become inactive, this can lead to deconditioning. Deconditioning simply means that your body becomes less fit and your muscles become weakened. This means that when you do try to be active, it can be more painful because your body isn’t prepared for movement.
Lack of hope can contribute to depression, anxiety and other comorbid mental illnesses. Depression and chronic pain can influence one another, creating a cycle. When we’re depressed, we’re likely to withdraw from activity and to isolate ourselves which worsens our pain symptoms. Likewise, when our pain symptoms are worse, we’re more likely to experience low mood and lack of motivation.
Depression and chronic pain actually share the same pathways in our brain which means that they can directly influence one another. This study explains that, “In recent years, studies have found considerable overlaps between pain- and depression-induced neuroplasticity changes and neurobiological mechanism changes.”
The Power Of Hope
Thankfully just as negative perceptions of pain can negatively influence our chronic pain, positive perceptions can have a positive impact. Having hope can be extremely powerful! When we have hope that things can get better, we are more likely to be motivated and proactive. We’re more likely to take our medication, to engage with treatment actively and to self-manage our chronic pain, which in turn reduces symptoms.
When we’re hopeful, our mental health is more likely to be stable. We’re more likely to feel confident, happier and optimistic. Hope allows us to plan for the future and to know we’re able to have a happy life, despite our chronic pain.
There Are Effective Treatments
Every pain patient should be given hope. Everyone should have access to treatments that are going to improve their quality of life and reduce their symptoms, especially when they’re already available!
Thankfully over time I began to do my own research and found ways to reduce my symptoms, regain the hope I had lost and take my life back! There are lots of treatments which can help chronic pain patients to reclaim their life.
Some of the treatment options available for chronic pain include:
● Psychological treatments
Psychological treatments are talking based therapies which can teach you the tools you need to reduce and self-manage your symptoms in the long term. Some of the psychological therapies which can be helpful for chronic pain include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), mindfulness, graded motor imagery (GMI) and more.
● Manual therapies
These are hands on treatments which can help to ease pain symptoms. Some of the manual therapies available include physiotherapy, massage, and hydrotherapy.
● Pain management programmes
These programmes are typically clinics within which you’ll see a wide range of professionals who can help to diagnose and treat your chronic pain.
Some patients with chronic pain find prescribed medications helpful, including painkillers, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants and anticonvulsants.
As well as professional treatment options, there are also really helpful ways that you can self-manage your pain at home. These can include pacing your activity, gradually getting into exercise, reducing stress, heat and cold treatments, practicing self care and so much more! You can read all about your treatment and self-management options here.
It Is Possible To Live Well Despite Chronic Pain
Hopefully in the future medical professionals will be able to give pain patients the hope that we all so desperately need. No one should leave a doctor’s office feeling hopeless and alone. We all deserve effective, proactive treatment to improve our quality of life.
In recent years research has led to greater understanding of the science behind chronic pain, and enhanced the ability to treat it. Research is ongoing and hopefully this will bring even more hope for those of us with chronic pain! This report from the National Institutes of Health makes a poignant statement: “For people who fight every day against the limitations imposed by pain, the work of NINDS-supported scientists holds the promise of an even greater understanding of pain in the coming years. Their research offers a powerful weapon in the battle to prolong and improve the lives of people with pain: hope.”
Living with chronic pain is undeniably hard. There’s no quick fix and there will be bad days, flares and struggles. However there are ways to improve symptoms, to get treatment and to find purpose. There are ways to find hope for the future and to find joy despite the hard times. It is possible to live well despite chronic pain.
National Institutes of Health, (2014), “Chronic Pain: Hope Through Research”. NIH Publication No. 14-2406
Sheng, J., Liu, S., Wang, Y., Cui, R., & Zhang, X. (2017). “The Link between Depression and Chronic Pain: Neural Mechanisms in the Brain.” Neural plasticity, 2017, 9724371.