I recently listened to a podcast from the City Club of Cleveland and Ideastream that my mom told me about. The impressive medical panelists: Salim Hayek, MD; Jeffery Janata, MD, and Catherine Koppelman, MD are affiliated with University Hospitals of Cleveland and Case Western Reserve University, who provided what I found fascinating information on chronic pain from psychological, medical, and patient advocacy perspectives. There were several points that continue to resonate with me.
First, I found these statistics of chronic pain astounding:
- 116 million adults are suffering from chronic pain;
- 50 million of these sufferers say they don’t get adequate relief from their pain;
- $635 billion in medical costs and loss of productivity each year;
- Chronic pain is more expensive than cancer, heart disease, and diabetes;
- Pain is not being recognized or reimbursed enough.
I know the last points are true as I’ve been doing itemized deductions for medical care over the last few years and how much I pay for office visits, tests, medications, etc. blows my mind every year!
For those who don’t understand the difference between acute pain and chronic pain:
- Acute pain is based on time and is a result of injury or surgery
- Chronic pain lasts beyond the normal duration of healing. Acute pain can become chronic. Chronic pain is also generally due to nerve damage.
Pain is a subjective experience where everyone’s association with the level of their pain and how they cope is different. Obviously, this makes it difficult for doctors to treat their patients and for patients to receive adequate care. In addition, medical schools provide little as far as curriculum. It is no wonder that people with chronic pain are also depressed.
But ever the optimist, I believe there is hope as well. More focus is being done on the brain. According to Dr. Salim Hayek, Division Chief of Pain Center at University Hospitals Case Medical Clinic, chronic pain is a memory of pain, even without any sensory input. In other words, pain becomes a habit and takes on a life of its own. Apparently, the new focus of studies on chronic pain is on the brain and not where we feel the pain. Perhaps someday there will finally be valid and reliable research on pain and the brain that will provide true relief from chronic pain.
Also discussed was the need for the medical community to make a more concerted effort in learning more about chronic pain and develop a multi-model approach where primary care physicians, specialists such as neurologists and rheumatologists, nurses, and alternative practitioners work together to help the patients. This is not always possible – I live in a rural community but am fortunate to have an excellent primary care physician – so being a self-advocate is critical. If you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor, find one who will listen and treat you with the dignity you deserve by listening, having patience to answer questions, and believe the pain you are describing.
In addition to the medical community needing to take on more responsibility, patients must also take responsibility. While the pain may not go away completely, it is critical to develop a pain management plan that makes you feel better. Doing low impact aerobic exercises – even if it means starting out walking slowly for just a few minutes. Take small steps but don’t give up. Muscles and joints hurt more when sitting around all the time. While I know it is hard, don’t give up. On days when you have crashed, I think it is okay to take a break but get back into a routine as soon as possible.
Finally, chronic pain sufferers need a support system. Friends, family, support groups (many exist online), and yes, even coaches who understand what you are going through are critical components to the chronic pain management plan. Feeling that no one really ‘gets it’ when you always hurt makes you focus too much on the pain and is depressing.
Do you have a support system that helps you through those difficult periods of coping with your illness and pain?
Do you feel comfortable with your physician?
Have you worked with a team of medical professionals to help diagnose and treat your chronic illness?
I would love to get reader comments and input on these issues.