Understanding Chronic Pain and Your Role in Treating It - Dr. Wayne Jonas

Understanding Chronic Pain and Your Role in Treating It - Dr. Wayne Jonas

Technically,chronic pain is diagnosed if it persists three to six months or moreafter an injury or disease heals. Sometimes there is a clear cause of the pain—such as arthritis—but other times there isn’t a specific trigger or underlying illness or condition. For instance, current science suggests fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition without a specific cause that is likely related to changes in how the brain processes pain. Sometimes people may feel pain in places distant from where the original injury occurred, something called “referred” pain. 

Often, chronic pain begins with an acute painevent. The pain can develop and intensify to become chronic pain. If you have chronic pain, you’re not alone. More than 100 million American adults areestimated to have chronic pain. Chronic pain is one of the mostfrequent reasons for physician visitsand is among the most common reasons for taking medication.

But pain is more than just a physical hurt. It is an unwanted guest that takes over your life, interfering with your ability to work, your relationships, your mental health, and youroverall quality of life. It affects your entire being. 

For example, those with lowback painare three times more likely to have limited functional ability and four times as likely to suffer psychological distress as those without low back pain. Unfortunately, finding the answer to your pain can feel like searching for a unicorn in a horse stable; the answer may not even live there.

It takes a village tomanage chronic pain—or at least a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals with you (and your own self-care) at its center.

Yet one of the things the U.S. healthcare system as a whole systematically fails at is the provision of suchcoordinated care. Most care is piecemeal with little communication among providers. 

So, people with chronic pain are left to jump from provider to provider, often undergoing unnecessary, costly, duplicative procedures, taking ineffective drugs, and finding their stress and anxiety increasing with every missed opportunity to relieve the pain. Often, they may feel as if they have “failed” and lose hope. In reality, it is the health care system that has failed them. 

One reason is that health care providers oftendismiss or minimize their patients’ reports of pain—particularly in women and racial and ethnic minorities. Indeed, there isevidencethat women are more likely to be prescribed psychological treatments for their pain than men, and are more likely to be viewed as overreacting and exaggerating their pain.

Part of the problem is that few doctors receive muchtraining in managing acute and chronic pain. In 2010, for instance, just four of the country’s 104 medical schools required that students take a pain course. Those courses lasted between 1.5 and 13 days. Another 17 medical schools offered optional courses on pain. Most disturbing is that few of the courses dealt with the most effective treatments for pain – a multidisciplinary approach involving medical and behavioral interventions. 

This leaves people with chronic pain undiagnosed, under-treated, and continually searching for a health care provider who can truly help them. Some pain sufferers give up on health care and never find adequate relief.

Whatever challenges currently exist, as someone with pain, you have certain rights and responsibilities when interacting with the health care system. It is important to keep these in mind as you seek to build a reliable pain management system and live the best life you can with chronic pain.

You have the right to: 

But you are also responsible for: 

Chronic pain is a complicated, challenging medical condition. Managing your pain while navigating the health system can feel overwhelming. But you can lessen the strain by working with the right providers, knowing your rights, and making the most of your health care coverage. 

Focus on building a strong patient-doctor relationship—one that helps you improve your quality of life. Because, with the right team supporting you, you can be in control of your own path to healing.

To learn even more about chronic pain and treating it, check out the Guide to Optimizing Treatment Through Integrative Health for People Living with Pain. 

Your Health Into Your Own Hands

Drawing on 40 years of research and patient care, Dr. Wayne Jonas explains how 80 percent of healing occurs organically and how to activate the healing process.

Images Powered by Shutterstock