Sadly, for many, neck pain is not just an acute incident lasting a day or two, but a chronic struggle which can have a serious impact on all aspects of daily life. For those living with chronic neck pain the battle to achieve an accurate diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan can seem endless. For some, unfortunately, there are limited options to help with chronic neck pain, which can lead to depression, anxiety, other physical conditions, and adversely affect their career, relationships, and enjoyment of life.
Chronic Neck Pain and Family Life
Ensuring that family and friends fully understand the condition causing chronic neck pain is paramount in order to help the sufferer manage their levels of distress. Initiatives like Spinal Health Month are such an attempt to help those living with chronic neck pain and other spinal issues. By altering the household division of labor a spouse, or other family member, may significantly reduce the strain, and subsequent pain. This is especially true in conditions such as fibromyalgia which can be made substantially worse by fatigue and emotional stress.
Getting Help When Living with Chronic Pain
If family members are struggling to accept the reality of a newly diagnosed disease try taking them to medical appointments as this can help them to be more understanding. Similarly, as many patients tend to underestimate their pain and daily struggles with a chronic condition, having a family member sit in on a medical appointment may allow the physician to gain a clearer view of a patient’s limitations, thereby increasing the offers of assistance and support. Specific help with daily tasks may be available to some patients, such as with shopping, cleaning, and personal hygiene; patients should not be afraid to ask about their eligibility for these types of assistance.
Depression and Chronic Pain
If chronic pain is causing depression then it is important to address this problem as early as possible as depression itself can increase the experience of pain. Constructing a framework of accepted limitations and goals providing motivation for those with chronic pain can help the sufferer regain some independence and joie de vivre. Studies have found that those with chronic neck pain often limit their activities unnecessarily due to anxiety over perceived risks, with a series of psychological consultations allowing the patient to feel freer to enjoy life once more, whilst managing their chronic neck pain. A recent study has also found that mindfulness training can help improve quality of life in Rheumatoid Arthritis, a potential cause of neck pain.
Sometimes a patient will be taking pain medications, such as muscle relaxants, that are also antidepressants; however, the doses taken for analgesia are usually insufficient to help with depression itself. Patients should, therefore, not assume that these drugs are ineffective for their depression and, instead, discuss their options with their physician. It is also worth remembering that a common side-effect of pain medications is actually depression itself, so if symptoms develop after beginning a new form of treatment it is important to talk to the doctor; do not simply cease medication however, as withdrawal can make depression, and other side-effects, much worse. Working with the doctor to come off medications slowly will help to reduce withdrawal symptoms.
Chronic Neck Pain and Work
Chronic pain and the associated issues such as anxiety, disability, and depression can seriously affect a patient’s ability to continue working as before. Specific help with employment, accessed through a doctor, local employment agency, or the employer themselves, can be incredibly helpful in allowing both minor and major changes to be enacted, thereby maintaining a chronic neck pain sufferer’s independence and employability. These changes could be something as simple as an ergonomic assessment of their work set-up and a new office chair, desk, or keyboard to improve posture. Major changes may allow for a patient to undergo retraining in a less physically demanding job so as to remain a part of the workforce where a previous career, such as manual labor, becomes untenable. Patients who feel compelled to give up work as a result of their pain often develop depression and social anxiety due to the change in circumstances and lack of daily interaction, as well as the loss of their financial independence. If these issues are present then it is important to address them quickly and develop an action plan to reduce the likely impact of living with chronic neck pain.
Available Treatments and Help
If the pain is mild then a regime involving yoga, massage, acupressure or acupuncture may be enough to manage the condition, and some may find that an acupressure mat can help alleviate the pain considerably if used daily. Neck stretching exercises formulated with the help of a physical therapist may also be beneficial in reducing the severity and incidence of pain, and help patients stave off further degeneration.
Spinal surgery is not always recommended for chronic neck pain, and long-term medication use may be contraindicated due to possible side-effects making alternative remedies for neck pain an attractive option if the condition is persistent. Discussing available help and treatments with an experienced physician or pain-management specialist can highlight appropriate therapies to aid the patient and improve coping skills. Above all, it is important to remember that there are many others living with chronic neck pain and that support groups, online forums, and medical professionals are available to help.