Chronic pain can make you feel very isolated. Those around you, even your closest loved ones, may not understand the enormous physical and emotional burdens that you carry, but millions of other Americans are having similar experiences. During Pain Awareness Month (September), you can learn how others deal with chronic pain and their most effective pain management strategies as well as derive hope from their experiences.
The American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA) first declared September Pain Awareness Month in 2001. In partnership with more than 80 organizations, the ACPA uses Pain Awareness Month to help the public better understand how chronic pain affects society. These groups urge you to communicate with your friends and family about your chronic pain during September. You should also take some time to learn more about health care resources available to you.
Chronic Pain in America
It may surprise you to learn how prevalent chronic pain is in the United States. A large part of the U.S. population is struggling with pain:
- Almost 25 million Americans or 11.2 percent have reported ongoing pain for at least three months.
- About 23.4 million Americans have a lot of pain on a regular basis.
- More than half of all U.S. adults have had acute pain episodes in the past three months.
- The most common forms of chronic pain include
- Low back pain
- Neck pain
- Facial pain
- Chronic pain is most common among older, female and non-Hispanic populations.
- Adults with chronic pain were more likely to
- Suffer from poorer health
- Utilize more medical services
- Become disabled
- Chronic pain is the leading cause of disability in the U.S.
Although the U.S. spends more than $600 billion on treatments for pain relief every year, many industry analysts point out the U.S. does not manage pain well. Partially, this is due to a culture that has a low tolerance for pain, but there is also less emphasis on prevention.
Despite the widespread phenomenon of chronic pain, less is spent on pain research. This has left physicians with fewer remedies than they would like. Essentially, medicine has been using the same medications for pain for centuries; new, safer drugs are very much needed to combat this epidemic. Without new pain therapies, the ongoing opioid epidemic will only worsen.
Latest Science of Chronic Pain
In years past, chronic pain was considered a relatively simple process that involved a pain sensation traveling from a nerve to the brain. Now, of course, we realize that it is a much more complex and involved process that is modified by a host cognitive mechanisms. Some of the latest research even suggests that chronic pain may involve different neural pathways than acute pain.
An emerging concept in medical circles is that neurons that fire together, like those included in processing a pain sensation, eventually become wired together. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of this neural bundling is that those nerves may stimulate one another and fire spontaneously even without an external pain stimulus. In other words, nerves involved in chronic pain processing may produce phantom pain in time.
There is also good news about chronic pain. New research suggests that the brain can shut down pain pathways if it considers such information unnecessary. Neuroplasticity is the ability to generate new brain mechanisms out of existing nerve tissue, and it helps bypass old, unneeded chronic pain pathways. This can be realized through cognitive retraining that convinces the patient that the pain has abated.
The problem with chronic pain is that it may persist for months or years, and during this time, transform from a purely physical issue into a psychological one. It is extremely difficult to distinguish between the two types of chronic pain and continues to pose challenges to medical clinicians.
Health Care Resources for Chronic Pain Patients
There are a growing number of tools for chronic pain sufferers. These resources can help you communicate about your health conditions, connect you with reliable support systems and provide the latest on pain relief therapies. With the right tools, you can vastly improve your quality of life.
The foundation for your pain relief strategy is your physician, but a surprising number of chronic pain sufferers fail to communicate effectively with their personal clinician. You can find an array of communication tools at the ACPA website. Some of these tools can help you better describe your pain or related health conditions, while others will help you maintain your symptom history or your treatment regimen.
If you feel that your personal physician lacks expertise in your particular pain condition, then you may wish to visit the American Academy of Pain Medicine website. There you can find pain medicine specialists in each state that have advanced expertise in many pain conditions and the latest on pain relief treatment options. These specialists use an interdisciplinary pain management approach that involves professionals from a variety of medical disciplines like physical therapy, pharmacology, psychology or nutrition.
You may also find useful advice from support groups that cater to chronic pain sufferers. You can begin your search online where there is usually a vibrant and helpful community, but you may find more benefits from attending an in-person support group. The ACPA has support groups in all 50 states, so they may be able to direct you to a local branch.
One of the most important aspects of Pain Awareness Month is education. It is critical that you take advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as possible about your health condition. You can learn more about the latest science from online journal articles, but you can also obtain a better background by delving into books. Here is a list of books on various chronic pain topics that may interest you:
- Coping With Illness by Helen Garvy, Shire Press, 1995
- Fibromyalgia: a Comprehensive Approach by Miryam Williamson
- Meeting the Challenge: Living With Chronic Illness by Audrey Kron, 1996.
- Migraine by Oliver Sacks, 1999
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees. The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship. Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.