During Chronic Pain Awareness Month in September, look into what it truly means to be living with pain. Learn more about how it affects both physical and mental health.
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In this article:
- Chronic Pain Awareness Month Begins with Understanding
- Demystifying the Biggest Myths About Chronic Pain
- The Physical and Mental Effects of Chronic Pain
Understand the Challenges of Living with Pain This Chronic Pain Awareness Month
Chronic Pain Awareness Month Begins with Understanding
The purpose of Chronic Pain Awareness Month is to educate and raise public awareness on the significant impact pain has on a person—how it affects not only physical but also mental health.
Understanding pain, however, always begins with its definition. What is pain, and what is chronic pain and acute pain?
There are many definitions of pain, but one thing is clear: it goes beyond discomfort. It can mean real or potential issues affecting the organs in the body.
Pain may be either acute or chronic. Contrary to some people’s beliefs, acute pain doesn’t mean less discomfort.
They only differ in pain duration. Chronic pain sufferers, for example, may be experiencing it at various intensities for months or even years—sometimes for a lifetime.
Many people suffer from chronic pain. In fact, it impacts more people than a combination of those with diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
Acute pain also affects about 76 million Americans while chronic pain is the leading reason for long-term disability in the country.
Note, too, pain may be a symptom of these types of conditions. It may also be a side effect to treatment options.
Demystifying the Biggest Myths About Chronic Pain
Another goal of Chronic Pain Awareness Month is to demystify some of the common myths about the condition. The biggest of them all is the idea pain affects only a select number of people.
1. Chronic Pain Is Not a Natural Part of Aging
It’s a long-held belief chronic pain is a sign of aging, and this may be partly true. Some chronic pain conditions such as arthritis may develop over time as joints go through wear and tear.
In general, though, while many of the chronic pain sufferers are old people, pain is not a natural sign of aging.
It still means something is wrong with the body, and some can live long lives without suffering from chronic pain.
2. Children Can Also Suffer from Pain
Pain knows no age; it doesn’t spare even children. Based on the data collated by the National Pain Center, up to 17% of kids and teens between the ages of 4 and 8 experience headaches often.
The Physical and Mental Effects of Chronic Pain
One can never understate the need for various forms of chronic pain management.
Living with chronic pain deals with not only controlling the symptoms. It also implies a huge downward effect of quality of life.
For Chronic Pain Awareness Month, Dr. Seeds enumerates what chronic pain conditions mean to your life or to those who have it:
1. Limited Mobility
One of the biggest impacts of chronic pain is limited mobility. Take, for example, chronic pelvic pain.
A person with such illness may not be able to walk or even get out of bed. To do so, they may need physical assistance even by professionals such as nurses or home carers.
As chronic pain illnesses worsen, they may result in a diminished capacity to work and earn income, yet their healthcare costs continue to increase.
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2. Higher Healthcare Costs
Pain is not cheap. It can mean:
- Almost five hours of productivity loss for a business. It can, therefore, mean losing thousands or even millions of dollars. So, pain has an impact on both the local and national economies.
- Spending of billions from the federal government, of which most goes toward therapy for pain and management such as palliative care.
- The inability of some chronic pain sufferers to sustain their treatment. Their insurance coverage may not be enough, and they may no longer have any source of income to pay for their pain medication or therapy.
What is palliative care? It is a type of medical care for people with a long-term or serious illness which focuses on symptom management, such as pain.
Pain, especially chronic pain, can also be a complex condition, making it more challenging to treat or manage.
Based on the data, most of the chronic pain sufferers experience back pain. However, 19.5% may also be experiencing knee pain and 15% may have neck pain.
It’s possible for a person to have more than one kind of pain, and each may demand a certain type of chronic pain management.
When it comes to treating pain, there are many possible options:
- Palliative care
- Massage therapy
- Pain medication
- Physical therapy
- Surgery options
- Supplements such as Body Protective Complex
The problem is what works for one may not work for the others. Worse, sometimes the pain treatment may only exacerbate or even introduce another kind of pain.
4. Depression and Anxiety
Chronic Pain Awareness Month also highlights how the condition can increase the risk of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Figures showed an overwhelming 77% of chronic pain patients can develop depression. It may stem from feelings of hopelessness about the situation and, most of all, isolation.
A person who is in pain, especially for long periods, may no longer be able to walk, drive, or live independently. This alone can reduce the quality of life significantly.
It’s also not uncommon for many chronic pain patients to avoid social interaction because of their condition. Even if there’s a desire to do so, they may not be able to participate because of the discomfort or their need for pain therapy.
There’s also the social stigma which comes with chronic pain, including the belief it may be because of their lack of self-care.
5. Sleeping Disturbances and Poor Focus
Remember some of your worst headaches. What did you experience?
Perhaps they kept you awake the entire night, or they may prevent you from going to work. If you’re on the job, you may not be able to stare at your computer for too long.
Now imagine the same situation happening over and over for chronic pain sufferers. They may even face these on a daily basis.
According to the information gathered by the National Pain Center, about 16% of people complain about severe headaches and migraines.
Meanwhile, over 80% of those with chronic pain may have trouble sleeping and 70% cannot concentrate.
Making this worse is the fact that both the lack of focus and sleep disturbance can be risk factors or symptoms of depression brought about by the condition. They may also increase the feelings of pain.
6. Increased Risk of Opioid Abuse
Chronic Pain Awareness Month might as well be Opioid Awareness Month as it cites how one of the most common options for treating pain can also increase the risk of substance abuse.
What are opioids? These are chemical substances which work with the pain receptors of the brain, producing relief.
For many years, it had become the gold standard for many pain medicine specialists until studies showed its harmful effects on the brain and mental health.
While opioids can decrease feelings of pain, they can also be addictive.
People who develop such addiction may find their doctor’s dosage to be less effective in controlling their pain, and they may only demand more. It puts them into a seriously vicious cycle which further harms their bodies.
To reduce the increasing number of people with opioid addiction, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines on the drug’s prescription. This explains why many professionals these days avoid giving such drugs to some patients.
This creates a problem as chronic pain sufferers may not have enough options to manage pain. It also worsens the stigma which comes with the condition: those with pain may also be potential drug addicts.
September Awareness Month focuses on emphasizing two things:
- Opioid addiction is real, and it can occur due to a person’s long-term dependency or use of the medication.
- It doesn’t mean, however, all those who take the medication become drug addicts in the future. Chronic pain patients who may develop substance abuse can also get the professional help they need.
Check out this video from Rebellious Story where she discusses chronic pain:
Many organizations such as the Chronic Pain Association are doing their best to educate people on the ill effects of the condition. You can also do your share, especially during Chronic Pain Awareness Month.
Spread the word about the realities of chronic pain, whether you suffer from it or not. Let the people know, despite their circumstances, help is available.
What can you do to help pain patients this Chronic Pain Awareness Month? Share your ideas in the comments section below!