More and more people are receiving diagnoses of chronic pain, as Mahir Reiss, a San Diego based physical therapist can attest to. Many of these people are young, defying previous notions that chronic pain was an ailment of age. Chronic pain comes in many forms, from fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis to lime disease and phantom limb pain. Regardless of the cause, chronic pain is a life altering condition that affects thousands of Americans.
While Mahir Reiss asserts that treatment for chronic pain is improving with increased awareness, it is by no means perfected. Pain management, the physical therapist points out, is also different than “cured.” Most individuals living with chronic pain learn tactics to help manage their pain, but even managed pain is difficult to deal with day after day. There are emotional as well as physical tolls that can decrease an individual’s quality of life, no matter their age, and specific issues that affect each age group.
Individuals living with chronic pain often feel isolated by their pain, as it prohibits them from taking part in activities they formerly enjoyed. Intimate relationships can be painful, and partners and spouses of those suffering have to adjust to their partners’ new limitations. Chronic pain can induce feelings of depression, anxiety, and fatigue, further escalating already detrimental effects of chronic pain on the individual’s psyche. Pain can cause feelings of irritation, making it difficult for individuals with chronic pain to enjoy the company of others, and further hurts perceptions of self.
In young people, chronic pain can seem like the end of the world. Suddenly set apart from peers, young adults must forego some of the experiences that they previously took for granted. A prom might be missed due to a fibromyalgia flare up, or a college student might have to permanently abstain from drinking with their friends.
On a more serious note, young people with severe chronic pain may not be able to enjoy moments of intimacy, something most Americans consider to be part of a healthy life, pursue a dreamed of career path, have children, or find employment, and many develop severe depression and anxiety. Chronic pain affects interactions with peers, creating dangerous feelings of isolation that can result in self-harm, and limitations may cause them to question self-worth. Unfortunately, Mahir Reiss states, instances of chronic pain among young people are on the rise, meaning an increasing number of young people will have to find ways of managing their chronic pain.
Middle-aged adults suffering from chronic pain may suddenly find they are no longer able to continue working the job that they love, and may have to find alternative employment or consider government programs like disability, in extreme cases. Adults with children may find they suddenly do not have the energy or patience they used to, and parent child relations can become strained. Adults, too, suffer feelings of isolation and depression, and sudden changes in lifestyle can also strain friendships and spousal relationships.
However, Mahir Reiss cautions against letting chronic pain take over an individual’s life. It is time, he suggests, for patients and doctors to start treating the emotional effects of chronic pain as well as pain levels, forming a more comprehensive “pain management” strategy. What may help an individual will vary, but Mahir Reiss offers several suggestions of strategies he has observed over his years of practice.
Support groups can be a supportive environment that can help alleviate feelings of isolation and depression. The knowledge that those around one truly understand what one is going through can boost morale and create lasting friendships. Support groups are also a great place to share ideas about strategies and successes as well as failures, and can point individuals in the right pain management direction.
Exercise, though it may seem counterintuitive, helps with many chronic pain conditions, suggests Mahir Reiss. Proper exercise regimens constructed with the help of a physician or physical therapist not only helps pain, but boosts morale, helping with depression.
Sometimes dietary changes can help manage chronic pain, especially immune related pain, and many books and articles are available for those interested. Cooking can also be a low-key way to relax and experience new things, especially when an individual feels limited socially or mobility wise.
Meditation and yoga, when performed properly, can be another way to relax and reduce tension, depressive feelings, and even provide deep breathing and exercise techniques that relieve muscle aches associated with chronic pain.
Most of all, individuals must remember to continue living their lives. Chronic pain can seem like a death sentence, but it is just a challenge that forces individuals to reach down inside themselves and find new strength. Continuing to do the things one loves, Mahir Reiss affirms, even if it is in a reduced capacity, can be the best medicine of all.