Intended as a warning sign of physical injury, pain that lasts too long can become a disease of its own. Chronic pain is a condition in which pain has occurred for three months or longer and often long after the initial injury has healed. Understanding chronic pain is an important step toward finding the proper treatment for this life-changing and potentially debilitating health condition.
The Pain Signaling Process
The nervous system is comprised of the peripheral nervous system, the nerves that run throughout the body, and the central nervous system, the spinal cord, and brain. Stimuli are anything that triggers transmissions through the nervous system, such as a hot stove, soft animal, or sharp needle. Sensations such as pain are normally perceived after stimuli in the periphery triggers a transmission that is relayed through the spine to the brain where it is interpreted as heat, cold, pain, etc.
Reflexes, which use similar nerve transmission pathways, are often interpreted at the level of the spinal cord. The shorter distance between the site of stimuli and the location of interpretation allows quicker responses to potentially dangerous situations.
Chronic Pain: Pathological Pain Signaling
Long-term pain transmissions can lead to alterations in the pain signaling process. The brain becomes so accustomed to recognizing the presence of painful stimuli from a particular location that the brain’s neural pathways are re-shaped to facilitate the transmission of this signal. Eventually, the pain signaling process related to a particular body site is so well established that it no longer requires stimuli: the brain senses pain even after the stimuli have been removed. In addition, the reflexes and other sensations that utilize the same signaling pathways can also be altered. This concept of re-wired neural pathways is essential to the understanding of appropriate treatments for pain that has become chronic.
Many pain-relieving medications are effective because they reduce the extent to which stimuli can trigger a peripheral nerve. This usually means alleviating swelling and inflammation at the site of the injury. When pain has become chronic, however, the altered pain processing requires treatment that targets the brain as the site of pain relief.
Until recently, few treatments were available to appropriately manage unremitting pain. Opioid medications were once a mainstay for the treatment of pain that has become chronic. While these drugs are essential for short-term and strong pain management, they can carry unwanted side effects and are not the most appropriate option for long-term pain management. New classes of drugs, as well as targeted drug delivery techniques, provide more options for delivering long-term pain treatments right where they are needed and with fewer side effects.
The special care and treatment required for these unique pain conditions make choosing the right health care provider essential for managing pain that has become chronic. Alliance Spine and Pain Centers are proud to provide a variety of long-term pain management options at its 15 locations around the Atlanta metro area. Trust Alliance Spine and Pain Centers to provide lasting relief from long-lasting pain conditions.