Chronic pain can be all-consuming. (Photo: Getty)
“Complainer.” “Pretending.” “Lazy.” “Unproductive.”
It’s not right, but for many people with chronic pain, being slapped with an unfair label is not exactly uncommon. After all, there are a lot of misconceptions about chronic pain — sufferers know this more than anyone. And according to the results from a new survey from Yahoo Health and Silver Hill Hospital, at least half of chronic pain sufferers polled believe others associate the above words with those who have unrelenting pain.
Chronic pain is a widespread problem in the U.S., affecting at least 100 million American men and women, according to the Institute of Medicine. And it takes a serious toll. The Yahoo Health/Silver Hill survey, which included 900 people who self-identified as having experienced serious, continual pain during the past six months or longer, showed that even though pain may not take your life, it can certainly take your livelihood.
“The survey really reinforced how devastating pain can be,” says Seddon Savage, MD, medical director of the Chronic Pain & Recovery Center at Silver Hill Hospital. “But people do want to get control, especially with self-management and fewer drug treatments.”
There’s not always an easy path to recovery for these men and women, who Savage calls “courageous, resilient, and perseverant.” Read on to find the widespread impact of chronic pain:
Chronic-pain sufferers who said they’d experienced “significant” or “severe” pain during the past two weeks.
Whether pain is the result of an autoimmune condition or fibromyalgia, cancer or surgery, a sports injury, or accident, roughly 70 percent of sufferers said they felt at least significant pain in the very recent past. Back pain (67 percent) dominated all other prevalent chronic problems, followed by hip/buttock/leg pain (44 percent), neck pain (39 percent), and shoulder/arm (35 percent).
Sufferers who think about their pain either “constantly” or “frequently.”
Pain is never far from the sufferer’s mind. There’s a reason 71 percent of men and women reported “feeling nervous, anxious or on edge” in the past two weeks, and 73 percent said they had “little interest or pleasure in doing things,” says Savage. “Pain actually changes the central nervous system,” she explains. Fortunately, there is hope: “We’ve found that therapies like meditation can really change pain transmission and processing.”
Those with pain who said providers were either “minimally” or “not at all” effective in treating their pain.
The good news: Roughly two-thirds of sufferers felt their docs took their chronic pain seriously. The not-so-good news: More than half said their treatments were minimally effective, at best. Savage says this is why a comprehensive pain treatment program is the best bet. “At Silver Hill, we think all forms of treatment have their roles — opioids, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and the like,” she says. “But what we really focus on is your relationship with your pain, the environmental factors, stressors, and moods that may affect your pain level, so that you can have more mastery of your pain.” Those consistent aches can touch every aspect of your life, and vice versa — every aspect of your life can touch your pain level.
Chronic-pain sufferers who said pain interferes with both their fitness and social life.
Men and women with chronic pain crave normalcy, but life with pain is undoubtedly different. About 41 percent of respondents said life was “not very good” or “poor” since pain onset. Roughly 90 percent said pain impacted their ability to get consistent physical activity, and the same percent said pain prohibited an active social life at least sometimes.
In addition, almost 75 percent of respondents said chronic pain was taking a toll on their marriage. “There’s nothing people want more than a strong love,” Savage says. “Since it’s common for spouses or significant others to misunderstand pain, or feel like they become their partner’s servant during bad times, it’s important for those in committed relationships to be involved in the treatment.” So attend doctor’s appointments, know what purpose medications serve, ask questions. The more you know, the less tension you’ll see.
Sufferers who said they felt “down, depressed, or hopeless” in the past two weeks.
Everyone knows what it’s like to have acute pain. Maybe you sprain your ankle, get popped in the eye with a baseball, or stung by a bee. You know the responses, too: You might wince, scream out, or cry. But shortly, in a few hours or a few days, you heal and that pain recedes. Chronic pain is something else entirely. The normal pain responses are not appropriate, because you can’t walk through life wincing and screaming.
Sometimes, those with chronic pain just want to hide away in a shell — as evidenced by the 63 percent of sufferers who told us they felt “down, depressed, or hopeless” over the past two weeks as a result of their pain. The temptation is to hide away, wait it out for better days. But Savage insists the remedy is the exact opposite: “It’s vital to find something you’re passionate about, find something that you love, something that engages you,” she says. “I’m convinced that doing that saves some people.”
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