Complex Pain Explained: Complex Pain 101

posted by Mandi Ward on Friday, April 29, 2022

There is nothing more frustrating than living in pain…all the time. 

“Easy” pain is the type that we recover from in a time frame that we find acceptable. Sometimes it’s low grade pain and manageable to live with. But, according to recent studies, one in four, and in some cases, one in three, people live with pain that is “hard” pain, lasting a long time, and is at times incapacitating. This pain can limit your life, reduce your abilities and start to affect your emotions, relationships, and independence.

Though this pain is undoubtedly difficult, we live in an exciting time when it comes to new understandings of how pain works leading to better treatment options and plans.

As a certified therapeutic pain specialist, I find myself excited to treat those with complex, long-standing pain issues. With new science, options for treatment have arisen, which enable me to offer alternatives to some of the most painful and complicated issues.  Pain often tells us that we have to stop doing so much: stop working, stop doing our hobbies, stop participating in relationships. Since we hurt, we can’t do what we used to do. That is understandable but it is actually far from the truth. We just have to know more about pain to know how to decrease its symptoms.

Complex pain is chronic, wide-spread, and non-responsive to normal medicine treatment options and normal therapeutic pathways. Most people don’t know that when pain becomes complex, the source of pain has undergone a shift. Many times the once-injured tissues have healed but pain still persists. At this point, the body’s natural alarm system is hypersensitive. It’s much like a car alarm that is sounding and sounding and sounding in a parking lot. The pain isn’t due to tissue trauma; it’s due to an overprotective alarm!

I often see patients that have been told that diagnostics cannot find a source of their pain, surgery is not an option for them, or that they need to learn to live with the pain. Again, I’m excited to have pain treatment options that can work for these people. We can make a difference to decrease pain by working to make the body’s alarm system healthier.

People do have options to help themselves, yet when it’s difficult when they don’t know where to turn. We can help.  Advances in pain science have given us options, choices, and the power to make a change in our pain ourselves, if we only know how. I always feel blessed to have the opportunity to walk alongside a person to show them how to turn down that car alarm so that their pain goes down by simple choices they can make themselves.

If this is you or someone you love, contact me at Spencer Hospital’s Rehabilitative Services at (712) 264-6189. We can have a conversation about your chronic pain and together, we can determine if the therapy I provide is the right treatment fit for your needs.  

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About The Author

Mandi Ward

Mandi Ward is a Physical Therapist at Spencer Hospital, specializing in complex and chronic pain management. Mandi is also a Therapeutic Pain Specialist through the International Spine and Pain Institute.