Chronic pain refers to a condition in which a patient experiences pain which persists over a long period of time. It can be defined as pain lasting for more than 24 hours, more than 12 weeks, or more than 6 months. This differentiates it from acute pain, which is defined as the sudden onset of pain from a direct cause that usually prompts the victim to take action to prevent the pain from continuing.
Estimates of Americans who suffer from chronic pain fluctuate between 76 million to 100 million individuals. It affects more people than cancer, heart disease, and diabetes combined. Chronic pain is also the most common cause of long-term disability. It can be persistent or intermittent and can range in intensity from mild to excruciating and debilitating. Unfortunately, due to the variety of causes and associations with chronic pain, there is no solution that will work in all cases.
Pain cannot be always be diagnosed or located specifically using external measurements; often the only evidence is the victim's personal experience and description of the pain. This does not mean, however, that it cannot be debilitating. With time, chronic pain can actually worsen, following a pattern called the “wind-up phenomenon.” In this situation, the pathways between the areas of the body that are in pain and the brain become conditioned to communicate as the nerves become more effective at sending pain signals. Although the original condition or injury which may have initiated the pain response in the brain is not worsening, the experience of pain is getting stronger and more intolerable.
Causes and Symptoms
Chronic pain usually stems from either a chronic health condition or a traumatic injury. Almost any part of the body can experience pain which may then develop into a chronic condition, including skin, nerves, bones, head, face, muscles, spine, and veins. Common health conditions which may result in a chronic pain condition include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis
- Stomach ulcers
- Multiple sclerosis
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Sinus infections
- Backaches from improper posture or lifting technique, being overweight, degenerative changes with age, or bad mattresses
There is a wide variety of traumatic injuries that can cause chronic pain as well, from fractures, sprains, and burns to surgical incisions or spinal injuries. Injuries such as these often come from playing sports, slipping and falling, incidents at work, or car accidents. In the case of traumatic injuries, the victim will experience acute pain first as they heal from the event but may continue to experience pain for an extended period of time, developing a chronic condition.
Often there are health issues or symptoms that accompany the experience of chronic pain or stem directly from it. These include physical issues such as inability to sleep, joint pain or stiffness, and a weakened immune system. Psychologically, the patient may experience anxiety, stress, depression, anger, and irritability. Negative mental effects can actually worsen the condition because they can reduce the body's natural ability to produce painkillers.
Treatment options for chronic pain are usually case specific because different types of pain may respond better to different therapies. In consultation with a physician, chronic pain sufferers usually implement a variety of techniques concurrently to manage their pain, which may become a lifelong condition. Common treatment options fall into a few major categories
Doctors may recommend either over-the-counter medication or prescribe medication to help manage pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen, sold as Advil, Aleve, or Motrin, can help reduce swelling and inflammation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) reduces the brain's ability to receive pain signals. Prescription medications may include opioids like codeine, hydrocodone, or oxycodone, antidepressants, steroids, and anti-seizure medication. These prescriptions often come with their own set of negative side effects that must then be managed.
As an alternative or supplement to medication, physicians may also advise a variety of therapies to alleviate pain. For muscle or joint pain, this might include massage, yoga or stretching. In the case of spinal issues which cause nerve pain, they may advise you to see a chiropractor. Other techniques that people find relieving include aromatherapy, acupuncture, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation which uses mild electric pulses to trigger nerve endings.
Since chronic pain involves both the brain and the body, often patients will also implement non-physical therapies. These might include cognitive behavioral therapy or counseling, group support, hypnosis, and meditation.
In some extreme cases, when other treatments have failed, there are surgical options that can help reduce pain. This usually involves implanting a device in the body which can then deliver heat, chemicals, or electric stimulation to block pain. Alternatively, a surgeon may advise decompression, in which the blood vessels are surgically removed or rerouted away from the nerve they are touching.
Proving Chronic Pain in Court
Chronic pain conditions can cause immense emotional and physical pain that may last a victim's lifetime. Treatment for these conditions can be long, frustrating, and extremely expensive. Moreover, insurance may not cover alternative therapies like acupuncture, massage, or counseling, even if they are recommended by a physician. It is, therefore, important to include any chronic pain conditions in a personal injury lawsuit, in addition to other claims.
Recovering compensation for chronic pain in a personal injury lawsuit can be more difficult than proving another party's negligence and liability for an acute injury. Although chronic pain is a well-documented phenomenon within the medical community, its proof largely depends on the victim's expression of the pain. A defendant's lawyer will likely downplay its severity and try to convince the jury that you are exaggerating your condition in order to receive a bigger award. In this case, technology such as fMRIs, images of the brain, or expert witnesses who practice in the medical field can help support your case.
Contact a Denver Chronic Pain Attorney
If you are suffering from chronic pain and unsure of how to proceed, experienced legal counsel can help guide you through this difficult time. At the Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal, we understand how chronic pain management is a lifelong challenge that necessitates substantial financial support. Call us today at 303.825.2223 for a free consultation on your case or contact us online.