September is National Pain Awareness Month so let’s begin with a startling number.
One hundred million. According to the most recent estimates by the National Institute of Medicine, that’s the number of Americans affected by pain. They also report that the cost to society in lost productivity and health care is more than $600 billion annually. The cost to each individual is much harder to determine: how do we begin to quantify the loss of happiness, the growing isolation, the fear of further damage, the unintended side effects of prolonged medication use or failed surgeries?
Acute pain may last a day or week or month. Chronic pain can last a lifetime. The prescription for acute pain – rest, medication, surgery (if necessary) – makes sense in the short term. But for those individuals with pain lasting longer than 3-6 months, these treatments can lead to an actual worsening of the pain experience. Doctors often understand the source of acute pain and can point to tissue damage caused by an external or internal injury. But when acute pain lingers and deepens, when it turns chronic, the pain drivers are not so easily identifiable. The obvious triggers for acute pain are no longer so obvious, and thoughts and emotions begin to have a greater and greater impact on the body. Acute pain provides a warning functioning of a threat to the system. Chronic pain is cut off from that important function; it continues with a kind of automaticity that constantly wears away at an individual until, for some, all hope of ever feeling well again erodes to the point of vanishing forever. Pain turns into suffering.
Most of us accept some level of chronic pain and, like that Energizer bunny, keep on going. But for some, chronic pain worsens into a chronic pain syndrome. A syndrome is a collection of symptoms that may include sleep disturbance, muscle deconditioning, depression, chemical dependence or drug addiction, social isolation, anxiety, legal problems, unemployment, changes in appetite, and sexual dysfunction. As you can see, most of these symptoms have very little direct relationship to a specific injury; they are the result of biopsychosocial factors that make chronic pain worse. While surgeries, pain killers, rest, and injections may help with acute pain, they often provide only limited help for those with chronic pain syndrome.
There are answers, however, and over the next month, my colleagues and I will discuss some ideas and approaches for managing chronic pain that may empower you to take back your life. Remember, pain is inevitable but suffering is an option.
Here are three good books from our Silver Hill Patient Library to help you take charge of your chronic pain:
- Manage Your Pain Before It Manages You, Margaret Caudill
- A Day Without Pain, Mel Pohl
- Meditations for Pain Recovery, Tony Greco
Bruce Singer, Psy.D.
Program Director of the Chronic Pain and Addiction Center
Silver Hill Hospital
We look forward to your comments on this and all Silver Hill Hospital posts.
Silver Hill Hospital’s blog is intended only to provide information; it is not intended to provide diagnosis or treatment. If this is an emergency, please call 911.