Editors note: “A Better Life” is a new weekly column by the USU Extension – Tooele Office that focuses on a variety of topics intended to enhance quality of life.
Chronic pain is any type of pain that lasts longer or is stronger than should be normal for healing. Typically, chronic pain is categorized as pain lasting longer than six months.
In 2018, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 20 percent of Americans are dealing with chronic pain. This means it’s more likely than not that someone close to you is dealing with chronic pain.
With that in mind, USU Tooele Extension, in partnership with University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare, is introducing the first Living Well with Chronic Pain class in Tooele. It is a free six-week class that will be held at the USU Extension Office in Tooele starting Feb. 25 at 2 p.m. With so many suffering from chronic pain, this class is a community resource that can help people understand pain and choose safe options for dealing with it.
Understanding how pain works clarifies why so many Americans suffer. Pain occurs in a four-step process. First, our senses notice and respond to harmful stimuli (i.e., extreme cold or heat, trauma, inflammation, infection, etc.). Then the signal of pain moves from the initial site of injury, through the spinal cord, to the brain stem. Step three occurs once the message gets to the brain, when brain centers react and an emotional response is triggered (Ouch! This Hurts!).
The first three steps all relate to acute pain. The last step, step four, is essential for understanding chronic pain. The last step is called modulation and it is tricky. Modulation is a reaction or action that changes the pain signal. This step occurs at the spinal cord and it can either block pain completely or result in more intense pain than we should be feeling.
Understanding modulation makes it easier to know how to treat pain. Modulation is probably the reason that pain medication becomes less effective over time. Pain medication can work well in the short term, but long-term use can be a problem. One quick example comes from prescription opioids, which can work wonders for short-term pain. However, longer-term use of opioids can trigger modulation — intensifying pain in a process called opioid-induced hyperalgesia. Instead of helping, the sufferer ends up with more pain.
The bottom line is that chronic pain is a complex process with no easy solution. Learning pain management options is critical for chronic pain sufferers, along with how to manage the fatigue and negative emotions that come with pain.
The Living Well with Chronic Pain class is an evidenced-based program proven to reduce pain, reduce frustration and depression, increase activity, increase confidence, and reduce emergency department visits. The class is free and participants will receive a Living Well with Chronic Pain manual and a mindfulness CD.
For more information or to sign up, call Lindsay King at 801-213-6675 or register online at livingwell.utah.gov/ws_find.php. The class location is 151 N. Main St., Tooele, in conference Room B126. Time: 2-4:30 p.m. Dates: On Mondays Feb. 25 – April 1, 2019.
Maren Wright Voss, ScD, is a professional practice extension assistant professor of health and wellness at the USU Extension – Tooele County office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. She can be reached at 435-277-2409 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.