Chronic Pain: 9 Things Doctors Want You to Know
- The Approach to Chronic Pain ReliefAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis of the 2016 National Health Interview Survey data, chronic pain affects approximately 50 million Americans every day. Living with and treating that ongoing pain can be challenging. Because the source of the pain varies from patient to patient, there’s no one right remedy that consistency works for everyone. As such, it may take time to diagnose the source of the pain as well as trial and error to find an effective treatment for management of chronic pain. The good news is finding an effective treatment for chronic pain is possible.
- 1. “Find a doctor who will take time to diagnose your pain.”As the demand for medical care and treatment increases, oftentimes it can feel like your doctor is rushed during your appointment and evaluation. However, it’s crucial to find a doctor who will take the time to listen to you and work to uncover the source of your pain. “For any chronic condition, you should be looking for a health partner that can give you the time it takes to uncover–through physical exams, laboratory tests and detailed health assessments–what lifestyle factors are contributing to or causing your condition so that it can be managed from the ground up,” says Tiffany Allen, FNP-C, WHNP-BC at Triad Lifestyle Medicine in High Point, N.C.
- 2. “Chronic pain does not mean there is tissue damage.”It’s not uncommon for patients to want to point out a specific injury or ailment as the root cause of their pain. However, that’s not always the case. “Patients often keep going to the doctor only to be told they can’t find anything wrong,” says Stephen Chee, MD, MPH, MA, MTOM, LAc, of Chee Integrative Medicine in Beverly Hills, Calif. “What research is found is that patients with chronic pain can have an abnormal regulation of pain signals within the central nervous system.” Essentially, the nervous system could be sending “false alarms” regarding possible tissue damage.
- 3. “There is no perfect medication for chronic pain.”Because the source of chronic pain varies by patient, finding effective treatment is equally varied. “It takes looking at the root of the issue to help treat the pain, not just covering it up with narcotics, which will only lead to numerous other issues and side effects,” Allen says. “Likely there are lifestyle changes–diet, supplements, lifestyle choices, exercise, stress management, sleep improvement, etc.–that can help reduce your pain.”
- 4. “Treating chronic pain may require more than one treatment method.”For many patients, alleviating chronic pain may not be possible with just one medication or course of treatment. It may take a combination of available treatments to provide relief. “Chronic pain requires an ‘all of the above’ philosophy in order to have the greatest chance at proper management,” says Hervé Damas, MD, MBA, president of Grassroots Wellness in Miami. “This would include analgesics, anti-inflammatory meds, physical therapy, massage therapy, and non-traditional methods like acupuncture and cannabis.”
- 5. “Movement benefits chronic pain.”Unless instructed otherwise by your physician, purposely moving the body part in pain can actually be beneficial. “Use the painful limb or region in intentional actions,” says Dr. Loren Fishman, MD, specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, affiliated with New York-Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia in New York. “For instance, draw faces of friends with a marker held between the toes of a painful foot. Specific yoga poses can be extremely useful by stretching a painful region or strengthening it or coordinating muscles.” Like regular exercise, repeated intentional movements can reduce pain by improving the fitness of the body part.
- 6. “Chronic pain is not limited to the painful body part.”While chronic pain may be felt in one specific area of the body, its effects are not limited to that one body part. “Chronic pain affects the whole body, similar to diseases like diabetes or heart disease,” says Jason G. Attaman, DO, FAAPMR, owner of Dr. Attaman PLLC in Bellevue, Wash. “For example, it literally causes loss of brain matter over time. It also affects your hormones, such as altering testosterone one levels. Therefore, ignoring or not treating chronic pain results in ‘systemic’ disease, meaning lots of body systems suffer.”
- 7. “Treating chronic pain goes beyond physical health.”Living with chronic pain can take a real toll on not only a person’s physical health, but also his or her mental health. “Pain severely affects quality of life and can contribute to mood disorders such as depression or exacerbate existing conditions,” Dr. Damas says. Therefore, it’s important to talk with your doctor if you are experiencing feelings of depression, uncertainty or unhappiness if they last for a prolonged period of time.
- 8. “Chronic pain treatment may take an extended amount of time.”Because there often is no one “right” treatment for chronic pain, it may take some trial and error to find a treatment plan that is effective. Be prepared to take the time to find the best remedies for your pain. “Chronic pain treatment can be seen in some cases as palliative,” Dr. Attaman says. “This means that, just like diabetes or heart disease, you may need to get this problem treated over a very long period of time, and there will be waxing and waning of symptoms as time passes.”
- 9. “Have a strong support system in place.”Don’t be afraid to rely on family and friends when dealing with chronic pain. “A supportive social network is key to sidestepping chronic pain,” Dr. Fishman says. “Authorities used to believe that chronic pain isolated patients and made social connections deteriorate, but recent work at Stanford shows it’s just the reverse: Chronic pain occurs far more commonly in those without much of a support system to begin with. I advise patients to treasure their friends, their social networks and support systems, and to try to grow them.”
Chronic Pain: 9 Things Doctors Want You to Know