Any type of accident in Vancouver or Battle Ground can cause pain. Car accidents, truck accidents, and other motor vehicle accidents can cause traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord damage, broken bones, burns, and many other types of injuries. Slip and falls, product malfunctions, and other accidents cause many of the same injuries.
Acute pain is the initial pain the occurs at the accident site and for the days and weeks afterward. Chronic pain is pain that lasts long after you’ve done everything to heal your injuries. Chronic pain often lasts a lifetime – preventing accident victims from functioning and living their lives to the fullest. Many people who live with chronic pain also live with anxiety, depression, and other emotional trauma because their pain never fully goes away.
What is chronic pain?
The Institute for Chronic Pain (ICP) states that acute pain is a “symptom of an underlying health condition.” The duration of acute pain is normally fairly short. Healthcare providers generally consider pain that heals within six months to be acute pain. The Cleveland Clinic uses just a three-month definition, and estimates that 25 % of people in America live with chronic pain.
Chronic pain generally lasts for more than six months, but can last for years. For many accident victims, their chronic pain never goes away – they have it for their whole life. The ICP states that many patients and healthcare providers have an improper focus. They think of chronic pain as just a symptom of the initial health condition that began their pain and that chronic pain only lasts as long as the initial injury hasn’t healed.
As a consequence of thinking that chronic pain can be healed by surgeries, injections, and narcotic pain medications; pain treatments for chronic pain often don’t work. Many patients with chronic pain have had numerous such procedures and rehabilitative therapies. Generally, these treatments may reduce your chronic pain, but they don’t eliminate the pain.
The ICP states that “The truth is, once pain is chronic, it’s pretty hard to stop, particularly if the focus of care is to try to fix the underlying injury or illness that started it all.” The ICP adds that chronic pain is pain that occurs in addition to the pain of the original trauma, and that it doesn’t really matter if the original injury has healed, saying, “Chronic pain is pain that has become independent of the underlying injury or illness that started it all.” In other words, chronic pain is “pain that has taken on a life of its own.”
Some of the symptoms of chronic pain, according to the Cleveland Clinic, are burning sensations, aching, shooting pains, stiffness, a squeezing feeling, and throbbing.
The role of the nervous system in chronic pain
Accident victims normally experience pain when the nerves around the injury site detect the pain and transmit signals along a highway of nerves to the brain. The brain then processes these signals and registers the location of the pain in your body. For example, pain in your back is sent through the spinal cord to your brain, which then registers the pain in your back.
While the signals are being sent to the brain, your nervous system reacts – essentially setting off alarms that cause your muscles to become tense – and cause victims to cry, grimace, and become emotionally involved. This reactivity helps you know something is wrong when it comes to acute pain, so you know to go to the emergency room and seek help. When your original injuries heal, your nervous system returns to normal.
For some patients, even after the acute injury heals, their nervous system:
Becomes more and more reactive in a process called wind-up. This reactivity of the nervous system comes to maintain pain in a vicious cycle, over and above the pain of the original condition that started it all. The end state of this process is a highly reactive nervous system called central sensitization.
The main problem with central sensitization is that that pain can feel like it’s spreading. For example, the chronic pain in your neck may also cause pain in your shoulders, pain in your upper back, and stress headaches. The pain can also increase in intensity. The physical pain can also cause fatigue, make sleeping difficult, and result in depression. The cycle continues as the stress and anxiety “adds to the reactivity of the nervous system, making the pain worse.”
Many different types of injuries such as injuries from car accidents, surgeries, whiplash, spine-related acute injuries, and other injuries can cause central sensitization.
Treating the nervous system to treat the chronic pain
The ICP states that physicians and patients must understand that chronic pain involves the nervous system. This means treatments that focus on the original injury generally don’t work. The treatments need to address central sensitization pain, through something called chronic pain rehabilitation.
What is a chronic pain rehabilitation program?
Patients suffering from chronic pain can benefit from chronic pain rehabilitation programs, which have five goals:
- Reduce pain
- Return to work or some other regular, meaningful activity
- Overcome problems that occur as a result of living with pain, like anxiety, irritability, depression, sleep disturbance, stressed relationships
- Reduce reliance on the use of narcotic pain medications, if taking them
- Reduce reliance on the healthcare system generally
Treatments include different types of therapies and procedures. The Cleveland Clinic states that some medications, including medical marijuana, can help. The ICP tries to help patients self-manage their pain through healthy lifestyle changes and coping strategies. Care providers include psychologists, physical therapists, doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, and vocational rehabilitation specialists. Therapies may include stretch and strength exercises, pool therapy, relaxation therapies, low-impact aerobic exercises, and other strategies. Treatment programs can be individualized. They may also include other patients who have chronic pain.
At Philbrook Law Firm, our personal injury lawyers understand how devastating living with chronic pain can be. We work with your doctors to verify the severity of your chronic pain and all the ways your chronic pain is making simple tasks like driving, eating, sleeping, and enjoying family are now very stressful. Our Vancouver, WA and Battle Ground, WA personal injury lawyers demand compensation for all your financial and personal damages. To schedule an appointment, call us at 360-695-3309 or fill out our contact form.
Founding Attorney Matthew Philbrook attended Clark College, Washington State University, and Gonzaga University School of Law. He is a member of the Washington State and Oregon State Bar Associations and started Philbrook Law Office in 2005. He specializes in Personal Injury, DUI and Criminal Defense cases. Learn more about Mr. Philbrook.