Business experts

Expert opinion: Breaking the pain cycle

Written by Paul Turner.


Paul TurnerAs a specialist lawyer working closely with victims of chronic pain, I feel immensely privileged to act for people who are often vulnerable and whose lives they describe as being 'on hold'.

Thankfully, I have not experienced any chronic pain in my life. Of course, I have broken bones and pulled muscles, however, unlike with victims of chronic pain, my pain went away.

It is the thought of living with constant pain and seeing the suffering of some of my clients that drives me to help in any way I can.

Adapted from Cooper, Booker and Spanswick, 2003, click to expand

As can be seen from this image, chronic pain moves in a cycle which manifests itself both physically and emotionally and the two are strongly associated with one another.

In the same way, a severe stress reaction can cause someone to experience or develop a chronic pain condition, the improved psychological health of an individual can be the key to improving symptoms of chronic pain.

Medical experts often look for a physical cause for pain and moreover physical solutions, be it manipulation, surgery or medication, when those options don’t work it can leave people feeling lost and at a loss about the cause of their condition.

Sometimes people can gain enormous benefit from mindfulness techniques which are very en vogue.

The pain cycle is self-fulfilling, if no attempt is made to break it, an individual can find themselves entrenched in a pattern of behaviour causing that person to remain static or their condition may get worse or remain permanently.

The downward spiral and cycle of pain is caused, in part, by deconditioning of the musculoskeletal system caused by avoidance behaviour and driven by the fear of pain.

The breakdown of the physical form leads to emotional deterioration, loss of confidence, loss of self-worth and fear, anxiety and depression, which leads to further avoidance behaviour and so on.

Adapted from Cooper, Booker and Spanswick, 2003 - click to expand

The pain cycle can be broken in a number of ways. Managing your pain begins with education. Victims of chronic pain must be aware that chronic pain itself isn’t caused by activity. When touching a hot surface, you feel pain, which is what your body is programmed to do, this pain is described as ‘acute’ pain.

Unlike acute pain, chronic pain is a ‘message’ that is not useful. Chronic pain doesn’t prevent further harm in the same way acute pain does, chronic pain is just there, a message that is continually being sent, sometimes without any objective cause.

Chronic pain victims can be referred onto a pain management programme where they are taught that it is safe to resume normal activity.

As participation increases, muscle strength and endurance start to return and with a strengthened core and musculoskeletal system, patients feel more able to engage in physical activity with less avoidance behaviour and fear that activity will cause a flare-up of chronic pain.

Social withdrawal is a common consequence of chronic pain. It is very important that as well as exercising the body, victims of chronic pain seek out social situations and surround themselves with positive influences and loved ones, as they would have before chronic pain became the centre of their worlds.

It might not sound like much, but a simple coffee with a friend might be the start of a break in the pain cycle, especially if such activity has been avoided due to fear and hyperarousal caused by chronic pain.

Exposure to activity breeds confidence and belief that it is possible to increase physical activity, step by step.

Combined with activities such as learned breathing techniques, relaxation and perhaps meditation, coupled with more traditional pain control/ medication, victims of chronic pain can begin to relax, start to feel confident to move more normally and to resume more and more activities, leading to improved mental health, happiness, and fulfilment and hopefully in time, less pain.

If you have been injured and know this is the cause of your chronic pain, or perhaps you suspect you have chronic pain from an injury and you continue to suffer from pain, you should seek legal advice.

Specialist chronic pain lawyers can help you understand your condition and will always seek the opinion of top medical experts and leading barristers to reinforce your claim.

They are usually happy to offer a free consultation discuss your claim on a no-win, no-fee basis.

Paul Turner is a specialist chronic pain lawyer at Goughs Solicitors.