September is Pain Awareness Month: Understanding and Compassion for Those Living With Chronic Pain
One of the most common reasons adults in the United States seek medical care is chronic pain.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that anywhere between 11 and 40 percent of Americans are battling pain issues, conditions that often lead to an increase in depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and addiction.
Since 2001, the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA) has designated September as Pain Awareness Month.
The goals of the public awareness campaign are to educate the public and lessen the stigma associated with issues surrounding the diagnosis, treatment, and management of chronic pain.
What is the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pain?
It’s essential to understand the difference between acute and chronic pain.
Acute pain is generally the result of an identifiable problem, such as an injury, and usually goes away as a person heals.
Acute pain almost always appears suddenly because of trauma and then disappears after healing.
Chronic pain, however, can last for weeks, months, or even years and is the result of an underlying issue, such as disease or past physical injury.
Arthritis is one such cause of chronic pain, and it can be anywhere from mild to severe.
What Are Some Ways to Deal With Chronic Pain?
Living with chronic pain can be debilitating, though there are tools that anyone dealing with these problems and their loved ones, friends, and colleagues should know about and employ. These can include some of the following:
- Join a support group, a resource for not only treatment methods but for being able to talk about and listen to others share their struggles and approach to living with pain
- Avoid self-medicating the symptoms of pain with illicit drugs and alcohol as these will only create more problems over time
- Acknowledge the toll that chronic pain has on mental health and, if needed, seek treatment for depression, anxiety, or other issues by a therapist familiar with treating patients struggling with pain
- Embrace holistic approaches, like mindful meditation and relaxation techniques, that are proven to lessen chronic pain
- Acupuncture has shown to be an effective way of treating pain
What are the Consequences of Treating Pain With Medication?
For many people living with chronic pain, medication is the most effective treatment. Unfortunately, this has become something of a challenge for pain patients across the country.
One of the consequences of treating pain with medication is the panic caused by the opioid epidemic. The addiction crisis is killing more than 130 people every day and has put chronic pain patients who depend on opioid painkillers to manage their conditions in a bad situation.
In 2016, the CDC put out new guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain that immediately generated controversy.
States and hospitals, physicians, insurance companies, and pharmacies began placing hard limits on the number of prescription opioids due to the new guidelines. Unfortunately, these new prescription limits have left many chronic pain patients needlessly suffer while waiting for medication refills to avoid an increase in opioid dependence.
Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC, in April 2019, “walked back” some of the new opioid prescription guidelines, 30 states had already passed legislation based on the restrictive measures the agency created three years earlier.
“As many patient advocates said, the CDC and FDA announcements were too little too late. Tens of thousands of patients had already been deserted by their doctors or forced to give up the pain medications that had allowed them to function,” writes Stat contributor Richard “Red” Lawhern.
Bringing Awareness to Pain Issues
As this controversy continues to unfold and creates hurdles for pain patients who are simply trying to live as many everyday lives as possible, given the circumstances, it is essential to bring these issues to the attention of the public.
Pain Awareness Month is an excellent opportunity to encourage community leaders, law enforcement, and local governments to have educational awareness events open to the public.
It’s also helpful for those living with this affliction to share personal stories about how they deal with chronic pain to help the public understand that people living with these issues deserve our understanding and compassion.