Living With Chronic Pain and Arthritis

Woman overwrought from chronic pain.
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Chronic pain is a reality for many people with arthritis. Yet, there is a great deal of misunderstanding about chronic pain. People who are just beginning to experience it, or those within their close circle of family and friends, don't understand the reality of living with chronic pain — especially at first.

How to Understand Chronic Pain 

Experience is a great teacher. In essence, we know what we live. But, the inherent misconceptions and misunderstanding of chronic pain can cause problems. Here are 8 things about chronic arthritis pain that you and your loved ones should know. Better understanding of chronic pain will allow everyone involved to deal with it in the best way possible, making sure that everyone's needs are known and addressed.

1. Chronic pain is defined as any pain lasting more than 12 weeks. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), "Whereas acute pain is a normal sensation that alerts us to possible injury, chronic pain is very different. Chronic pain persists — often for months or even longer." Chronic pain may develop following an injury, such as chronic back pain. It also can be associated with a medical condition, such as arthritis. With arthritis, chronic pain typically persists for a lifetime because there is no cure for the disease. Appropriate arthritis treatment is essential for managing the disease and the characteristic chronic pain.

2. Pain, even chronic pain, is variable. On a day to day basis, and sometimes even within the same day, the intensity of arthritis pain can vary. This is difficult for family members to understand how you can wake up with a high pain level, or even a tolerable pain level, and have it change unexpectedly. There must be willingness to adjust and adapt when the course of the day dictates. Bottom line - pain is variable and unpredictable.

3. People living with chronic pain strive for normalcy. People with arthritis try to focus on what they can do, to have normal routines, and to continue participating in usual activities without allowing chronic pain to be much of an intrusion or disruption. Normalcy is always the goal. Family and friends can help facilitate that by asking how they can help. Family and friends need to step into the situation rather than out of the situation. 

4. Chronic pain does intrude and disrupt life at times. It's a mistake to think that won't happen, despite striving for normalcy. But, how often chronic pain interferes with routines or plans depends on the severity of the underlying condition. It's important to understand that it will happen sometimes. When it does, try to take it in stride and not make the person with chronic pain feel more guilty than they already do. If you have to cancel plans, make up for it as soon as possible. In other words, minimize the disruption.

5. Living with chronic pain can take a toll on a person's self-esteem. Chronic pain can rob a person of their former self. Obviously, people with more severe pain are more greatly affected. Arthritis is associated with physical limitations. It may force a person to be less active and can lead to disability. The changes are difficult to accept and it can affect confidence. Consequently, it can lead to mood changes and even depression.

6. Chronic pain affects sleep. Chronic pain has far-reaching consequences. It's not simply about learning to live with pain sensations. Chronic pain can affect sleep patterns and when sleep disruption becomes a consistent problem, it affects how a person thinks and feels. It affects their energy level. It affects their attitude. It affects everything! It develops into pervasive fatigue that is unshakeable.

7. People with chronic pain are not faking, nor are they lazy. I'm surprised how often I hear that people with chronic arthritis pain are accused of faking their condition or accused of being lazy. The accusers think people with chronic pain overplay their symptoms in an attempt to get out of doing something. Usually, this comes from a lack of understanding about the variability of pain and factors that affect pain level. Ineffective treatment, stress, insufficient rest, or overdoing activities are a few examples of things that can increase pain levels.

8. Chronic pain is not like anything you have experienced —​ it is not acute pain. Chronic pain is not a jammed finger or a stubbed toe. It's not sore feet from standing in line too long. It's not a sore knee because you bumped it. It's different. Unless you have a chronic pain condition yourself, you don't know what it's like. Remember that always — you don't know what it's like. It's life-changing to say the least. At its worst, arthritis is bone-on-bone which can be excruciating.  

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Article Sources
  • Chronic Pain. NIH Medline Plus, The Magazine. Spring 2011.