What Happens if Chronic Pain is Left Untreated?
We all experience occasional pain at some point, owing to a number of factors like – occupation, improper postures, injuries, and so on. Even though we continue to cope with various pain issues and live normally, it not always possible to deal with all of them on our own; especially those that hamper our ability to perform basic physical movements such as walking, standing, running, etc.
If you’re experiencing persistent pain in your body, and face difficulties in doing your everyday tasks, this could be an indication of a chronic pain condition. It is different from the usual and temporary type of pain (i.e. acute pain – which is caused by identifiable factors with sudden onset of discomforting sensations). Chronic aches can develop gradually, last for several months (6 months and beyond) or even years, and bear a severe impact on the daily life of the patients.
Acute pain can occur when you touch a stove/hot iron, or through sharp objects (needles, pins, scissors, etc.) that can cause minor cuts and wounds. This pain may not always require care by a physician. On the other hand, chronic pain occurs as a result of serious injuries, or disorders in the body (diabetic neuropathy, fibromyalgia, arthritis, cancer pain, etc.) which requires medical intervention. Neglecting this pain or resorting only to home-remedies/DIY treatments is not recommended and can lead to:
- Poor quality of life.
- Inflexibility and worsening symptoms of chronic pain
- Occurrence of sleeplessness, suicidal instincts, and so forth.
Common Types, Causes & Symptoms of Chronic Pain
The causes of chronic pain vary from person to person, but some common reasons can include:
- Nerve damage
- Post-surgery side-effects
- Psychological factors like stress, anxiety and/or depression
- A disorder or condition like sinus, tendinitis, cancer, etc.
- Old age
- Labor-intensive jobs
- Lifting unusually heavy objects
Based on the different types of pain, they can be divided into 5 categories:
- General Somatic Pain – This pain arises from outer body parts and is generally short-term with minor discomforts, but it may become chronic. Some examples of persistent somatic pain include chronic back pain or body aches experienced in fibromyalgia.
- Visceral Pain – Some chronic pain syndromes occur internally when one or more organs suffer from the effects of major disorders like chronic pancreatitis (inflammation in the pancreas), gallstones, appendicitis, chronic active hepatitis (inflammation in the liver), and many others. Pain caused by any of the above-mentioned requires comprehensive medication and/or surgical procedures.
- Bone Pain – A bruise/fracture may not always cause severe damage & pain in the bones and can be treated in a short span of time. But chronic pain that occurs as a result of bone cancer, osteoporosis (extreme softening of the bones), osteomyelitis (infection in bones), or arthritis (inflammation in the joints) is often unbearable and requires extensive treatment.
- Muscle Spasms/Cramps – Chronic muscle pain or spasms are the result of sudden and involuntary contraction of one or more muscles caused by various physical and environmental factors. High-intensity exercises, stress, dehydration, limited blood supply, etc. may cause pain that can either be acute or chronic.
- Peripheral Neuropathy – This occurs in the peripheral nerves, usually, those in the head, face, trunk, or feet. There are a number of reasons for this disease including traumatic injury, infections, metabolic disorders, hereditary factors, among other factors.
There are numerous physical and psychological sensations associated with chronic pain like:
- Mood swings
Possible Complications of Untreated Chronic Pain
As we’ve already discussed, it’s important to treat your chronic pain for maintaining your overall physical and mental well-being. That being said, here are some complications that may arise, when these conditions are left untreated (or poorly treated).
- Cardiovascular – Chronic pain bears an unhealthy impact on your cardiovascular health. It affects the regulation of blood pressure, leading to a high risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) which can ultimately cause a heart attack, stroke, or even death.
- Musculoskeletal – Deconditioning of limbs as a result of continuous pain and limited movement is a common risk factor of chronic aches. Weakness in a muscle, nerve, or joint may also be experienced by the patients. As a result of this, generally mobility can be limited in the affected area.
- Hormonal – Persistent pain can affect the endocrine system (glands that control metabolic activities), which may function abnormally and cause other physiological issues. This imbalance in hormones leads to high or low levels of catecholamines, glucocorticoids, and testosterone, etc. – leading to a myriad of health issues.
- Neuropsychiatric – The cognitive processes of an individual are also at risk. The normal brain functions such as memory and attention are most likely to be affected, followed by other issues such as insomnia and depression.
How is Chronic Pain Diagnosed?
What tests are used to diagnose chronic pain? A physical examination along with an analysis of the patient’s past health records is the initial step in diagnosing the recurrent pain in the body. All the pain symptoms (like inflammation, tingling, stiffness, etc.) are noted by the doctor. The next step then includes diagnostic tests to determine the right cause, such as:
- Spinal fluid tests
- Blood/Urine tests (mainly for autoimmune disorders)
- Nerve Conduction
- Electromyography (analyzing muscle activities)
- Reflex and balance tests
- Imaging tests – X-rays and MRI
In certain cases, counseling is also adopted as a supplementary diagnostic therapy, especially if the pain seems to be a learned behavior in response to a strong stimulus or life event.
Medications & Treatment Available for Chronic Pain at APC
Although there’s no cure for chronic pain, it can be treated and managed to carry out the life you deserve. For the last 20 years, the chronic pain management doctors at Advanced Pain Care have been helping many patients live a healthy, active and pain-free life.
We consider every possible non-surgical and surgical option for providing the most effective chronic pain treatment, like:
- Medications – Certain medicines and steroids like anticonvulsants, anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, opioids, OTC pain relievers, etc. can be recommended by our specialists if required.
- Lifestyle Changes – A lifestyle management plan can be implemented for disorders that are directly related to the dietary and living habits of an individual.
- Physical Therapies – Exercises, massage sessions, acupuncture, etc… can be used to strengthen the muscles and joints and improve their flexibility.
- Surgery – Based on the severity of the condition, several operational procedures can be performed like spinal cord stimulation, knee replacement, spine fusion, etc.
- Psychological Services – Counseling and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are available.
- Other Medical Treatments – Some other options incorporate the use of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), nerve blocks, epidural steroid injections, radiofrequency therapies, etc.
Our patient information portal provides important information you need as our first-time patient along with the details of the insurance carriers we are in-network with. We serve multiple locations in the Greater Austin Area with three surgical centers in Austin, Amarillo and Round Rock; and are available Monday-Friday (from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.). If you’d like to talk to us for guidance or queries, call our central helpline number – 512-244-4272.
Mark T. Malone, M.D., is a Board Certified pain specialist and a native Texan. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and went on to attend the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. Dr. Malone attended Baylor College of Medicine… View Profile