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The impact of “minor” but constant pain

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

A year ago I got a mild tension headache that lasted for several weeks, almost non-stop (just one piece of my own ongoing chronic pain problem). It would surge up to moderate severity in the evenings, and there were a few patches that were impressively bad, but it was the grind of constant pain, regardless of severity, that I think really took its toll on me.

And I think that’s a thing — a thing that many people with a tension headache problem can relate to. Here’s what an old friend of mine had to say about it, and he has a lot more experience with that grind:

I find low level chronic pain much worse than infrequent acute pain. It is a weird thing (maybe not for someone with your knowledge base) that I can easily shrug off significant pain like getting kicked in the face in martial arts … but steady low level stuff, like shoulder pain or headaches, mentally breaks me pretty quickly.

I don’t think I properly appreciated this phenomenon until I’d felt it. There is clearly nothing “mild” about mild pain when it persists for six weeks.

As is so often the case, one must live with a problem to really get it. More and more, I wonder how I could possibly publish a good website about pain if I didn’t also suffer from it. “Fortunately” for this enterprise, I now have that experience.

My headache tutorial has been updated three times this fall. In addition to this point about minor-but-relentless pain, I have also added warnings about how massage can backfire and make headaches worse, and back in September, I added a new section about the cervicogenic headache debate: “From the neck or not?” See:

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