IF you have been suffering discomfort anywhere in your body for 12 weeks or more, you could be one of the millions in this country living with chronic pain.
The condition, which can be “on and off” pain or continuous, means some people cannot work, eat properly or fully enjoy life.
The most common types of chronic pain, according to health watchdog Nice, are back pain (present in 53 per cent of cases), headaches (48 per cent) and joint pain (46 per cent).
Chronic pain affects 38 per cent of women and 40 per cent of men.
And while two-thirds of patients are over 75, it can affect all ages, including children.
Dr Amanda Dee, who has specialised in chronic pain for 14 years, told Sun on Sunday Health: “It is very different to the acute pain that you experience after an injury and goes away with medication or treatment.
“Sometimes the trigger for chronic pain is never known.
“It happens when tissue damage has healed but your body still thinks it’s in danger.
“It’s like having a faulty alarm system sending continual signals to your brain.
“Nerves become very over-sensitised, so even tiny things can cause pain — and that plays on an automatic loop.”
GPs often prescribe high-strength opioid painkillers but Dr Dee says a holistic approach, including managing the psychological impact of living with pain, is also necessary.
The chartered clinical psychologist said: “It can take a hold and affect quality of life if sufferers haven’t got the right help.
“It can leave people isolated because quite often the pain ends up taking the driving seat.”
Waits to be seen at NHS pain clinics — for specialist help from clinical psychologists or rehabilitation services such as physiotherapy — can be as long as two years.
The impact on mental health is so significant that one in five sufferers experiences suicidal thoughts, according to Dr Dee.
But there are things people can do at home to help.
She said: “Chronic pain can’t always be cured but it can be managed.
“It needs psychological support to live with it.
“First, it is very important to rule out any underlying causes with your GP.
Then patients need to find the right toolkit to live with it and enjoy life.”
See her suggestions below…
Five ways to alleviate the condition
HERE are Dr Dee’s tips to help manage chronic pain at home:
GAIN KNOWLEDGE: Read up online about chronic pain, download or request free resources from your GP and remind yourself that this kind of pain is safe — then find out what methods work for you.
SLEEP: This makes you more physically and mentally resilient. Pain can make sleep hard so find routines that soothe you to sleep.
Try to soothe your nervous system through the day with breathing exercises, recognising and managing negative thoughts and not expecting too much of yourself or feeling guilty about things you cannot do.
BE ACTIVE: Society tells us to rest when we are in pain but, here, it can be counter-productive to stop engaging in life, adding to isolation and ramping up pain when you try to get active again.
Don’t be afraid of activity and exercise if your GP has given the go-ahead. Just pace yourself, and know when to stop, too.
STATE OF MIND: Keep your mind and body healthy by doing things that enhance your quality of life.
Avoiding things you enjoyed can cause isolation, low mood and stress, which leads to the production of the hormone adrenaline.
Continual stress and adrenaline can cause further pain and fatigue.
COMMUNICATE: Loved ones cannot support you if you do not open up about what is happening.
To reduce feelings of isolation, tell them what the pain is like and ask for help.
‘It has helped me live a full life’
RUTH BARBER suffered a minor injury to her hamstring and pelvis 16 years ago while teaching a dance class.
It led to daily lasting pain which she compares to “hot, barbed wire” shooting through her thigh.
Her GP sent her for MRI scans and physiotherapy to try to identify why the pain would not go away.
Ruth, 46, a mum of one from Glasgow, who is now a yoga teacher, credits her physiotherapist with identifying the chronic condition and referring her to a pain management clinic.
She said: “I was in absolute despair and depressed. When you suffer chronic pain, you focus on it all the time.
“But with professional support and by educating myself about what was happening to me, I learnt to manage or minimise the suffering.
“It has allowed me to live a full life.”
Pain Concern’s helpline offers confidential support on 0300 123 0789.