September is Pain Awareness Month in the United States. The American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA) established this observance in 2002, along with the Partners for Understanding Pain, a coalition of 80 healthcare organizations and consumer groups.
The goals of Pain Awareness Month are:
- To raise public awareness of issues around pain and pain management
- To improve knowledge and understanding of chronic pain, so it may be more easily recognized and appropriately treated and managed;
- To remove the traditional stigma felt by those who suffer from it; and
- For health care professionals, employers, individuals, and families to recognize it as a serious public health issue.
Types of Pain
There are three distinct types of pain: acute, cancer, and chronic pain.
Acute pain has a beginning and an end. Usually, acute pain is the result of illness, such as cancer, or an injury, such as a severe burn, or a broken bone. Typically, acute pain ends when the illness or injury is treated and cured. Sometimes, though, acute pain can turn into chronic pain, especially when an illness or injury has complications or is not properly treated.
Cancer pain is not always consistent; some people with cancer don’t experience much pain, or if they do, it is not constant. Cancer pain is often successfully treatable with drug and non-drug therapies. Cancer patients who do feel pain should be open with their doctors about it, and assert themselves to ensure they have proper pain management.
Chronic pain is pain that lasts. It may not be constant, but it never fully goes away. It is frustrating and stressful for sufferers, their families, and their healthcare providers, because there is no cure for chronic pain. An injury or illness may cause the initial pain, but it continues long after recovery from the original cause.
Sometimes, chronic pain is intractable, meaning the cause of pain cannot be removed or treated. This is often the case for diseases like arthritis, back pain, and migraines. Pain medicine and treatments like Botox, physical therapy, and other types of therapy can help alleviate the pain, but will not fully cure it.
Chronic Pain = #1 Disability Cause in the U.S.
According to the National Institutes for Health, chronic pain is the number one cause of long-term disability in the United States. More than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain; that’s more than diabetes, heart disease and cancer – combined.
However, according to a survey conducted by Partners for Understanding Pain, many people don’t know how widespread the issue is. Two-thirds of people surveyed named something other than pain as being the primary cause of disability in the country.
Most people think of a typical chronic pain sufferer as over the age of 65 – and while many older adults do suffer chronic pain conditions, 80 percent are between 24 and 64.
Most concerning, survey respondents also think people exaggerate their pain to obtain drugs, avoid work, or attract attention to themselves. This is also not true. Few people exaggerate their pain for any reason. Most people are more likely to downplay pain.
Many Physicians Have Little Pain Management Training
The Partners for Understanding Pain survey revealed a confidence in the health care system to diagnose and treat pain. However, medical schools have not historically included training in pain management. While this is changing, too many physicians don’t have the training to identify or treat pain. As we covered in a previous blog post, women’s symptoms are often misdiagnosed because male bodies are often used as a baseline in clinical studies, while women’s bodies act differently.
For many chronic pain sufferers, male and female alike, diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain takes years, even decades, of trial and error, multiple medical opinions, and numerous specialists.
Sadly, some physicians feel patients exaggerate their pain. This is the reason Pain Awareness Month is so important.
Pain sufferers are often prescribed opioid medications to treat pain, and for many, this treatment is successful. Medications developed to treat pain often don’t cause the “high” associated with street drugs, and may not be as addictive.
But clearly, some are. Prescription drug abuse has, in many ways, fueled the epidemic of drug addiction and opioid-related deaths our country.
And this is where a lack of medical training for pain management becomes dangerous. While an opioid-based pain medication may be the best possible treatment for one patient, that same medication may be dangerous to another, even if the symptoms are similar.
Another unfortunate consequence of the opioid epidemic is that many people with chronic pain suffer unnecessarily because they are afraid to take pain relief medications that might help them.
Let’s Talk About Chronic Pain
Sadly, there are more questions than answers around the issue of chronic pain. And that is exactly why we must continue the discussion. The theme for Pain Awareness Month 2019 is “Let’s Talk about Pain.”
Too often, due to misconceptions, misinformation, and pain mismanagement, pain warriors are ashamed to speak up about their experience. They don’t want to sound like complainers; they’re tired of pain being the all-consuming factor in their lives; they don’t want people to know they’re on pain medication; they’re tired of people telling them “it’s all in your head,” or suggesting home remedies, herbal supplements, or the latest internet myth on reducing pain.
Keeping the conversation going can help to remove the stigma, so pain sufferers don’t need to feel alone and ashamed. Those who have chronic pain should feel comfortable telling others what they’re going through, what they need, and how others can help.
How to Help a Chronic Pain Warrior
If you know a chronic pain sufferer, here are some tips to be a supportive ally:
- Make specific offers of help. Saying “call me if you need anything,” is nice, but not helpful. Instead, call and say, “I’m going to the supermarket. Can I pick you up some salad fixings?” Offer to run errands or take their kids to a movie.
- Check in frequently on how your friend is feeling. For example, “Do you feel well enough to talk now?” Be prepared to graciously accept “No” as the answer. Say you understand and you’ll call back another time.
- Continue to invite your friends with chronic pain to do things and go places – don’t leave them out. But also let them know you understand if they don’t feel up to making it.
- Ask before you give them a hug or touch them. They may be highly sensitive.
- Be willing to listen to your friends talk about their experience without feeling as though you need to solve the problem. Simply be empathetic and compassionate. “That must be so frustrating.”
- Don’t try to diagnose or suggest treatment by saying things like, “You’re just depressed. You need to think positively,” or “Do you get enough exercise, sleep, vitamins, etc.?” or “I just read about this amazing cure you should try.” Leave the diagnosis and treatment to the healthcare professional your friend is seeing.
- Don’t suggest their condition isn’t real, or their pain is all in their head. You don’t know what someone else is going through.
If you are currently suffering from chronic pain as the result of an accident injury, you may be entitled to compensation if the accident was caused by a drunk driver, a defective product, or a dangerous location. Contact TorkLaw today to find out if you have a claim. We may be able to help you recover compensation to help treat your condition.