Managing Acute and Chronic Pain

One in five New Zealand adults, or about 770,000 people, have chronic pain that refuses to go away.

One in five New Zealand adults, or about 770,000 people, have chronic pain that refuses to go away. As the population ages, this number is expected to rise to about 1.26 million in the next 25 years. Chronic pain can impair your mobility, flexibility, strength, and endurance. This may make it difficult to complete daily tasks and activities. As a result, many chronic pain sufferers also struggle with their mental health.

When you suffer an injury, pain signals travel up your spinal cord and to your brain. As the injury heals, the pain usually reduces. Chronic pain, on the other hand, occurs when your body continues to send pain signals to your brain even after you have recovered from the initial injury. This can last anywhere from a few weeks to several years. The pain could be sharp or dull, and continuous or intermittent, coming and going for no apparent reason.

Traditional treatments for chronic pain are opioid medicines. While these medicines can be effective at alleviating pain, they often have undesirable side effects and a high potential for addiction. As we’ve seen in the United States, the overprescription of opioid medications can be very problematic. Even patients prescribed opioids for acute pain can quickly become addicted. New Zealand does have tighter controls for these medicines. However, many patients would prefer not to risk addiction at all or to transition to a safer alternative.

Natural treatments are becoming increasingly popular with patients suffering from chronic pain. Medical cannabis, including THC and CBD oil, has shown potential to alleviate symptoms of pain and inflammation. It may even support improved mental health outcomes associated with chronic pain. The efficacy of medical cannabisfor the treatment of chronic pain is still unproven but research to date is promising.

What causes chronic pain?

Nerve damage from physical injury is the most common cause of persistent pain. The damage to the nerves increases the intensity and duration of the pain. Even if the underlying injury is treated, the pain may persist. Certain medical conditions can also be responsible for ongoing pain, including: 

  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Endometriosis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease

Tips for managing chronic pain

Reduce your stress

Did you know your stress levels can influence how your body perceives pain? Stress causes the release of cortisol which can cause your muscles to tighten and even spasm. Prolonged stress can actually cause pain, the areas that are typically affected through stress include the neck, back and shoulders.

Prioritise sleep

Your body heals better with rest. Ensure you have a consistent bedtime routine and that you’re sleeping comfortably through the night. If your pain is preventing you from getting a good night’s rest, it may be worth considering medicine to help with your insomnia.

Stay moving

If you have chronic pain, it’s still important to exercise regularly (with medical clearance). Physical activity helps boost your endorphins and reduce inflammation.  

Eat Healthy

Certain foods that don’t agree with you can actually worsen inflammation. Ensuring your body gets the right nutrients, vitamins and minerals will give your body the fuel it needs to heal.

Get support

Living with chronic pain can be extremely challenging but you don’t have to face it alone. Build a support network around you that includes your medical team, loved ones and friends. Connect with other chronic pain sufferers, you will find empathy and inspiration from those who have learned how to improve their health.

Does medical cannabis help with chronic pain?

Studies on whether medical cannabis can help patients improve chronic pain symptoms have produced mixed results. However, anecdotal reports of individuals who report significant improvements while using medical cannabis are not uncommon.

If you think natural medicine could be a viable treatment for your chronic pain, book a consultation with one of our doctors today.