September Is Pain Awareness Month

Since 2001, September has been designated as Pain Awareness Month by the American Chronic Pain Association. Every fall, various organizations work to raise awareness about pain and pain management issues.

The reason that an entire month is designated for pain awareness is that there is an epidemic of pain in the United States. More than 55 percent of all U.S. adults experienced some degree of pain in the past three months. Anywhere from 50 to 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain conditions, with 25.3 million experiencing pain daily. The most common forms of chronic pain include lower back pain (27 percent), headache or migraine pain (15 percent) or neck pain (15 percent).

Pain Is a Public Health Crisis

Given the enormous scope of chronic pain in the United States, it is surprising that the public is still relatively unaware of one of the most prevalent health crises. It is estimated that the nation spends from $560 to $625 billion every year on medical treatments, lost work productivity and related expenses.  That is almost $2,000 for every American man, woman, and child.

Closely related to the ongoing crisis of chronic pain is the opioid epidemic. These prescription pain killers were initially developed to treat pain, but due to fraudulent and misleading marketing and abuse, opioids have become a public health scourge. In 2015, more than 2 million people struggled with opioid abuse disorder, and 20,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has overshadowed most other public health issues, but this has only exacerbated many important concerns like chronic pain and opioid abuse. In addition to direct aggravation of chronic pain symptoms due to infection and long COVID consequences, the pandemic has worsened the situation by putting more stress on vulnerable patients and diverting vital resources from non-COVID issues.

One of the most pressing issues for chronic pain patients during the pandemic is the growing emotional strain due to social isolation. It has long been recognized that there is a link between negative emotions like anxiety and depression and chronic pain. Long term isolation can produce or worsen these emotional conditions, which in turn can aggravate pain symptoms.

What is even more distressing is that many of the medical services that chronic pain patients relied on to manage their conditions have disappeared, diminished, or become less accessible as more funds and personnel are re-appropriated to COVID-19 responses. Although this may include pain medications and therapies, it almost certainly includes psychiatric services and inpatient services. Because many of these pain treatments are considered non-urgent, they are often a downgraded priority.

Unfortunately, one of the many effects of the pandemic has been a surge in substance abuse. While much of this has occurred in the public, there are indications that opioid abuse has increased significantly since the start of the pandemic. From March to May of 2020, an analysis of 500,000 urine samples found a 32 percent increase in fentanyl use, 20 percent increase in methamphetamine use and 10 percent increase in cocaine use.

In some ways the pandemic has curtailed substance abuse, but in general, it is fueling a horrific surge. Isolation has limited exposure to social situations that encouraged the use of illicit substances, and the risk of infection has disrupted the fragile supply chain of street opioids like heroin and fentanyl. However, many desperate users are resorting to more dangerous dealers. Furthermore, more users are left alone and without support if an accidental overdose happens.

How You Can Raise Awareness of Chronic Pain Issues

Chronic pain is a complex and widespread issue that deserves more public recognition. You can do your part in the fight against chronic pain, including

  • Share the facts—many of the most basic facts about chronic pain are not understood by people without a pain condition. By talking about this uncomfortable issue, you can help others empathize and better understand chronic pain.
    • Chronic pain is defined as any pain condition lasting more than three months, but it can go on for years. Many pain conditions are episodic, so there may be periods of dormancy interrupted by acute attacks.
    • Chronic pain doesn’t have to have a visible cause. Although it is common to link chronic pain to an underlying health issue like an injury or illness, that isn’t always the case.
    • In addition to the pain symptoms, many chronic pain patients also suffer from related health issues like insomnia, severe fatigue, poor appetite, and emotional instability.
    • Every patient’s chronic pain experience is unique. Although there may be some common threads among all patients with a specific pain condition, there are unique aspects to every case. Some people may have personal triggers, attacks of varying intensity and duration, or symptom expression.
    • Although pain medicine is evolving rapidly, there is no guarantee that it can send the pain condition into remission or even greatly improve symptoms.
  • Petition your leaders—it only takes a few minutes to write an email or letter asking your state and community leaders to allocate more resources to pain management. Especially in a historic pandemic, our government leaders need to be reminded that chronic pain is still a burning issue with many Americans.
  • Make a donation—if you would like to make a generous contribution to an organization like the American Chronic Pain Association that is fighting for chronic pain patients, this month is an excellent time to do so. Your donation can help raise awareness about chronic pain issues, fund research or strengthen community resources for needy patients.
  • Take care of yourself—if you are one of the millions of Americans struggling with a pain condition, then Pain Awareness Month is a great time to renew your commitment to improving your situation. Ask your doctor what else you can be doing to improve your pain symptoms as well as your general health. If this means starting a new diet or exercise regimen, don’t wait to start.

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.