Living with chronic pain—often associated with conditions such as ankylosing spondylitis or osteoarthritis—can be accompanied by many frustrating realizations. If you are living with chronic arthritis pain, understanding and accepting these truths can make you better equipped to confront challenges that arise, head on.
1. Medication may not eliminate all pain
A major challenge of living with a degenerative disease like arthritis is that medications may become less effective as the condition progresses.
Taking over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), may eliminate mild arthritis pain, but may be less effective in reducing moderate or severe pain. Similarly, prescription pain medications, such as celecoxib (Celebrex) or a topical NSAID, such as diclofenac sodium (Voltaren gel), may become less effective as arthritis progresses. In addition, current medical treatment guidelines recommend that the use of opioids for arthritis or similar degenerative conditions, should be avoided and reserved for only exceptional circumstances.
Finding relief from chronic pain will involve trial and error and might not be as simple as taking a daily medication. A willingness to try alternative therapies, such as tai chi or yoga, and a supportive health care team can help you live with chronic arthritis pain.
2. Chronic pain is isolating
Chronic pain can be debilitating and keep you from doing the things you enjoy. You feel lonely and isolated. This is especially true if others don’t understand what you’re going through or why you can’t just overcome it.
The easiest way to combat this isolation is to make connections with others who know what you’re going through. For example, online chronic pain forums and exercise classes tailored for people with arthritis (such as an aquatics exercise class) allow people with chronic pain to find each other and share support and experiences.
One such place is our Back and Neck Pain Support Group .
3. Chronic pain is unpredictable
Each person’s experience with chronic pain is completely unique. Two people can have the same condition and be in the same general health, and yet their pain experience can be completely different.
When it comes to chronic pain, the amount of tissue damage does not necessarily predict the pain that will be experienced. This is very true for those with arthritis. For example, someone with a badly damaged joint may feel only minor pain, while someone else with only mild joint deterioration can be in serious pain.
4. Chronic pain doesn’t help the body heal
Acute pain due to tissue damage from something harmful—like touching a hot surface or a sharp object—acts as a warning to the brain to take evasive action and avoid further injury. But with chronic pain, the nerves are sending repeated signals to the brain for no protective purpose. Chronic pain can be very frustrating since it is not as simple as finding the cause of the pain and “fixing it,” like in acute pain. Even when pain starts as acute pain resulting from tissue damage, the pain can linger long after the tissues have healed.
5. Chronic pain triggers other health problems
Those with chronic pain are much more likely to have depression, fatigue, sleep problems, and more. Often, these problems increase the pain, triggering a dangerous downward cycle both physically and emotionally.
The health problems that accompany chronic pain can be identified and treated at the same time chronic pain is being treated. Treating sleep problems and depression, for example, can help increase your quality of life even if the pain intensity is unchanged.
If you have chronic pain and you struggle with some or all of these factors that make life difficult, seek emotional support from others who understand what you’re going through. Also, don’t be afraid to talk with your doctor and share how chronic pain affects your day-to-day, so you can work together on finding appropriate treatment options for both the pain and the suffering.