Chronic Pain Now Affects 50 Million US Adults
September is Pain Awareness Month. A new article of federal data indicates that chronic pain affects about 50 million US adults. Around 20 million of these adults have chronic pain that interferes with life or work activities. While the article discusses the financial cost of chronic pain it does not address the emotional, psychological, associated medical, and lost dollars the patient suffers.
Pain is an invisible disease yet it affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined, and is one of the most common reason patients seek professional help. It is not an expected part of aging. It can cause a myriad of other related problems from personal to professional. On a pain scale of 0-10, most chronic pain suffers live and function with a 5-7/10 pain that would bring the rest of us to our knees.
While understanding drug options and their effects is important, it is critical to also offer non-drug options to a patient for them to be successful in managing their pain. The patient is taught how to manage with less pain, for a longer sustained period of time, with less effort and/or with risk for development of (more) painful conditions.
A good pain management practitioner uses a “toolbox of options” and selects them based on the assessment findings and patient needs. It is more than providing pain medicine, although this is not to say pain medication does not have an important place in managing many person’s pain. It is a team approach and often involves a team practitioners.
There are a variety of energy conservation or compensatory strategies a patient can use to perform an activity. Body mechanics, posture, and ergonomics all play an important role as well. Simple, inexpensive equipment or home modification suggestions can be a lifesaver. Modalities and exercises to control inflammation and swelling, stabilize and strengthen around a joint, reduce the effort and risk of associated falls all play a role. Transcutaneous nerve stimulation or TENS, now found over the counter, is a commonly employed strategy to override the pain and give the patient some control back but should be taught by a trained clinician how to use properly and effectively to work.
Probably my favorite concept to offer patients to help explain how their illness impacts their day to family and loved ones who care but don’t always “get it” is The Spoon Theory The Spoon Theory us a concept written by Christine Miserandino explaining her day and energy to a friend. It is so widely used the concept is listed in Wikipedia and those living with chronic illness are coined as Spoonies as noted in Urban Dictionary.
But probably one of the most important aspects of healing is finding a supportive team of both clinicians and laypersons. Finding people you can relate to not only keeps you from feeling alone and isolated, but can provide tricks, tips, and support. There are a wealth of great websites and bloggers out there including InvisibleNotBroken.com , ButYouDontLookSick.com and ChronicBabe to name a few.