Chronic Pain: Causes, Diagnosis, and Coping


Donald feels like a new man. After years of enduring debilitating back pain, he’s finally feeling well enough to coach his daughter’s soccer team, to take his kids fishing and camping, and to go on a cruise with his wife. He said goodbye to sickness, short tempers, the heating pad, couch, sedating nerve damage. All the same, he’s marveling at his renewed strength and capacity to think of something else besides pain.

Donald is one of many who have turned to pain management experts for help with never-ending hurts. The specialty is relatively new and still suffers from misconceptions, but it is gradually earning the acceptance and respect of both health professionals and the general public.

With acknowledgement have come the pressing questions: What causes Pain Management. “So we wind up looking at X-rays, at CT scans, at MRI scans for evidence [of disease] that we think correlates with causing pain.”

Newer techniques reportedly include muscle imaging with that can locate taut bands and trigger points, and EMG/NCS, a device using electrodes on the skin to identify trouble areas in muscles and nerves.

For his part, Silverman uses various methods to diagnose pain. He asks patients to give their discomfort a number from zero to 10 (zero representing no pain, and 10 being the worst), and to describe what they’re feeling. The words patients use — such as throbbing, shooting, squeezing, sharp, hot, cold, and itchy — give him clues to what is wrong. He also uses his own to spot apparent physical damage and X-ray equipment to detect any internal abnormalities. In addition, he tries to find out what else is going on in the patient’s life.

“>sex, for instance, may affect the ability to cope with bodily distress.

Treating Pain

Penney Cowan remembers all too well how terrible she felt the first six of the 30 years she’s endured fibromyalgia. “I was completely nonfunctional,” she says. “I was afraid, didn’t know anything, and was blindly going forward hoping someone’s got the magic bullet for me.”

As Cowan realized, however, there is no perfect solution for her pain. So she decided to learn as much as she could about dealing with the discomfort. Her active involvement not only eased her misery, but also inspired her to establish the American Chronic Pain Association, a group dedicated to educating healthcare professionals and the general public about pain management.

From her experience, Cowan says people who take an active role in their treatment tend to have better quality of life, reduce their sense of suffering, and feel more empowered. Strategies she recommends for active learners include seeking a well-qualified pain specialist or program and looking up information about medication and treatment from reliable sources such as The Cleveland Clinic.

Experts say it’s also helpful to know that relief may come from one or a mix of strategies, which can include medication, physical therapy, surgery, and/or psychological therapy. Seeking a pain specialist is reportedly only one part of a comprehensive solution.