Acute pain is something that the entire population deals with – pain that is a symptom of an injury or illness— but chronic pain is something that occurs for millions of Americans. For example, acute pain occurs if a child were to break a leg playing sports. This same child would get an x-ray that would identify the broken bone, the leg would be put in a cast, and the child would be told to stay off the leg to allow the bone to heal. Chronic pain occurs after this – after the bone has healed and the acute pain from the initial injury has gone away. But, what if this child was still saying there was pain in the leg after the bone was healed? Doctors in this situation may look at the bone with additional x-rays and tests to conclude that the bone has healed, there is no damage, and, therefore, the child should not be feeling pain. But, this child is in pain. This child now has chronic pain.
Chronic pain comes in many different forms, but it is now being recognized as a medical condition in itself related to an over-activate nervous system. Even though the child is complaining that the leg is hurting, pain is actually processed in the brain. The initial reaction of most doctors would be to look at the leg because it is where the child experiences the pain, but that is actually not where the pain is initiated – it is occurring in the brain. It is like people with phantom limb syndrome insisting that their leg hurts after it has been amputated. There is no physical leg there anymore, yet they feel pain in the limb. That is because the part of the brain controlling feeling in the leg is still active in the brain.
Chronic pain is real and can last for months, years, or longer. It is more difficult than acute pain to diagnose and treat because the actual source of the pain is complex. Chronic pain is getting attention now more than ever before, but there is still work to be done in providing services that support the mind/body connection and education for clinicians, caregivers, and youth in pain. Chronic pain is now known to be its own disease rather than a symptom. Since it is a neurological condition that occurs primarily in the brain, but affects different parts of the body, the traditional biomedical care model that most physicians use does not often work for the child with chronic pain. Rather, modern science has shown that a “biopsychosocial” model of care is needed to treat chronic pain. This means that neurologically based mind and body strategies plus social support (feelings of connectedness to others who understand the suffering of someone coping with chronic pain) are the tools needed to change
Learn more about the Smart Brain Pain Syndrome