5 Things People With Chronic Pain Want You To Know

chronic pain knowLiving with chronic pain is difficult enough before you add in the stigma you have to deal with from other people. Hopefully your friends and family members are sympathetic to your condition, but even they don’t fully understand what you’re going through. Today, we want to share five things that people with chronic pain want you to know about their condition.

What We Want You To Know

Here are five things that patients with chronic conditions wish others knew about their condition.

We don’t want to be in pain

This may sound obvious, but sometimes people think individuals are just playing up their pain to get attention. Trust me, they’d trade all the attention in the world if they could live a pain free life. If they are talking about their pain, it’s because they want you to try and understand what they’re going through, not because they are craving attention.

Just because we don’t show it, doesn’t mean we’re not in pain

We put on a brave face and go about our daily life, but just because we’re smiling doesn’t mean we’re not in pain. Chronic pain patients often try to mask their pain because they don’t want to be seen as weak or injured, and some are great at hiding their pain. But that doesn’t mean we don’t feel it with each step.

Keep reaching out

It’s impossible to predict when a flareup is going to occur, so if we say we can’t make it out to the mall or we cancel on movie plans at the last minute, we’re not trying to avoid you. We’re just dealing with a lot of pain and we’d be miserable, but we love that you’re reaching out. Keep texting and calling us, because we really do want to hang out. Don’t assume that we’re intentionally trying to avoid you, because we’re not.

We’re not in it for the drugs

We don’t want to be taking pain pills, but sometimes they are the only thing that makes it bearable to get through our physical therapy session. We’re not just popping pills and hoping the problem gets better, we’re actively working towards finding a solution through a combination of therapy techniques.

We’re not lazy

What’s easy for some is a huge burden to others. When chronic pain is at it’s worst, even getting out of bed in the morning can be difficult. Again, we’d trade anything for the chance to live without constant pain, but life doesn’t work like that. We’re not using chronic pain as a way to get out of work or doing chores. We’re trying our best, even if it doesn’t look like it.

JAMA’s Approach To Chronic Pain Is Misguided

chronic pain opioidsEvery week, the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) publishes short articles that address important topics in medicine. Last week one of the articles was on taking care of chronic pain patients in primary care medical practices.

In the era of opioid abuse, one would think educating primary care physicians on pain would be beneficial. This article unfortunately was a catastrophe. The information on addiction was wrong and the treatment of pain was overly simplistic.

Understanding Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction is a significant issue today. Yearly over 30,000 people die due to opioid-related incidents. This is nearly as many people as those who die in automobile accidents. However, addiction is an illness in itself, and of all the people who use opioids, only a small percentage of about 5-7 percent at most ever become addicted. Addiction to opioids is no different then other addictions and requires psychological intervention and medical detoxification.

Chronic pain is a very complex disease, and has many causes. There often is not a single problem involved and finding solutions to improve the issues present takes a deep medical understanding of many different fields. One must be able to identify and understand all the medical problems contributing to pain. Having a solid knowledge of rheumatology, internal medicine, orthopedics, neurology, and musculoskeletal medicine are just a few of the skills needed in pain medicine. In reality, it does not matter how people progress to a chronic pain condition, what matters is that 1/3 of the adult population has problems with chronic pain.

The article in JAMA recommends that primary care physicians need to see the pain patients frequently, with shared decision making, compassionate care, promoting shared decision making, and use an interdisciplinary approach. They should work with motivational interviewing, and have physical therapists and psychologists in the office to work with them and the patients.

This article was written by physicians from the University of Michigan, and pardon my language, is crap. From experience, these physicians are in academics and they are tremendously sheltered from the pressures of most practice situations. Most primary care physicians have 15 minutes at the most to see a patient and they do not have any other support like psychologists in their practice or physical therapy. At the University of Michigan, pain patients are also referred out to the Physical Medicine physicians. The advice in this article is of extremely low use.

What We Should Be Doing

Primary care physicians need far more practical advice on management of chronic pain. First off, chronic pain is not a single medical condition but most commonly it is the response to multiple medical problems. The role of primary care medicine is, more importantly, to identify that there is a problem and help quarterback and guide a patient to the correct treating physicians. With limited time for each visit, send the patient to experts in pain management such as a physical medicine physician who actually has the appropriate training and resources to treat complex problems.

Secondly, avoid the quick fix by trying to hand out medication, especially opioids and many of the other drugs on the market since developing a comprehensive management strategy is necessary. Again this type of management is not really primary care and working with a specialist is more productive. Once a specialist has developed a successful treatment approach, be willing to take over and maintain the program. Third, realize pain is extremely complex, often with no cure, and the goal of treatment is to improve function and make the symptoms more manageable. The best advice for primary care physicians is to learn who are the knowledgeable and successful pain management experts in your area and use their expertise to help manage these complex patients.  

Pain Catastrophizing and Chronic Pain Care

Pain CatastrophizingWhen it comes to managing chronic pain, it’s imperative to take as much care of your mental health as it is your physical health. Ignoring your mental health can lead to more negative attitudes towards your pain, which can lead to even more problems according to a new study.

A new report out of the Stanford University School of Medicine suggests that individuals who negatively fixate on their symptoms have been found to report greater pain intensity and are more likely to be prescribed opioids. Interestingly, the association was much higher in females than it was in men.

“When it comes to opioid prescriptions, pain catastrophizing has a greater effect on the likelihood for having a prescription in women than it does in men,” said medical student and lead researcher Yasamin Sharifzadeh.

Pain Catastrophizing

According to researchers, “pain catastrophizing” is defined as the cascade of negative thoughts and emotions in response to actual or anticipated pain. When you begin to let these negative thoughts continue to build and take hold over your pain, it can actually amplify the pain process and lead to greater pain and increased disability. Previous studies have shown that pain catastrophizing has been linked to increased pain sensations, but this is the first study to find a correlation between it and an increased likelihood of being prescribed opioids.

For their research, Sharifzadeh and her team analyzed clinical data from more than 1,800 patients with chronic pain. After analyzing the data and parsing out the results between genders, researchers came to an interesting conclusion.

“In men, it is pain intensity that dictates whether or not they are prescribed opioids,” Sharifzadeh said. “However, in women, there is a more nuanced issue where relatively low levels of both pain catastrophizing and pain intensity are associated with opioid prescription. Pain catastrophizing and pain intensity are working together in determining if a woman has an opioid prescription.”

This is especially problematic when you consider that women are more likely to suffer from chronic pain, be prescribed pain relievers and given higher doses for longer periods than men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, by recognizing this correlation, doctors can help to mitigate this risk.

“If physicians are aware of these gender-specific differences, they can tailor their treatment,” Sharifzadeh said. “When treating chronic pain patients — especially women — they should analyze pain in its psychological aspect as well as its physical aspect.”

If you feel like your mental health is fighting a losing battle with chronic pain, reach out to your doctor. Contact Dr. Cohn today.

Spinal Cord Stimulation For Chronic Back Pain

Pain is something that can quickly take over our lives. Pain can lead us to be more emotional and less empathetic with family and friends. It can hinder our ability to do things that make us feel better, such as exercise. It can take away our earning potential if we are unable to work because of the pain. In other words, pain can upend what you do and who you are.

And chronic pain like back or leg pain can be particularly overwhelming. It’s different than pain in an extremity like a finger or toe; leg or back pain starts in one spot and can radiate elsewhere and be unrelenting.

Many people start with traditional medicine such as pills or doctor visits, but those may have limited impact. They may also try natural healing, but again—the person may determine how effective those are. One treatment that works for many is spinal cord stimulation; this graphic explains what it is and how it might help.

What Is Spinal Cord Stimulation?

Spinal cord stimulation is a safe and relatively effective treatment option for certain individuals suffering from chronic back or leg pain. Roughly 80 percent of individuals who undergo SCS experience some form of relief, whether it be in the form of decreased pain, a reduction in the need for opioids or better sleep quality.

Our friends at PainInjuryRelief.com recently reached out to us with an infographic about spinal cord stimulation and asked if we’d be interested in sharing it with our readers. We are always happy to discuss new technologies and potential treatment options, so we’ve included it below. Check it out if you believe spinal cord stimulation may be something that you could benefit from.

Block Pain and Get Back to Your Life with Spinal Cord Stimulation

Does Chronic Pain Increase Likelihood Of Cognitive Decline?

dementia pillsRecently, a new report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that there may be a link between chronic pain and the eventual onset of cognitive issues. But do these findings really suggest that chronic pain leads to an increased risk of cognitive decline, or is there something bigger going on? We take a closer look in today’s blog.

For their study, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco decided to look at how chronic pain impacted a person’s mental health. They began by examining data collected on more than 10,000 individuals over the age of 60 who were taking part in a different nationwide study. Patients in that study were surveyed about their pain scores and cognition in 1998 and 2000. Patients were then monitored over the next decade.

Chronic Pain and Brain Health

After looking at the data at the end of the study, researchers found that individuals who said they were persistently bothered by moderate or severe pain declined 9.2 percent faster in cognitive and memory tests over the next 10 years compared to those who said they were not in pain. Moreover, patients who complained about persistent pain exhibited a 7.7 percent greater chance of developing dementia than patients who did not experience regular pain.

“A persistent report of moderate to severe pain, which may reflect chronic pain, is associated with accelerated cognitive decline and increased dementia probability in a large population-representative data set of elders,” wrote first author Elizabeth Whitlock, MD, a postdoctoral fellow in the UCSF Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative Care. “Clinicians should be aware of this association, which persisted after extensive statistical adjustment for confounding health and demographic factors. Patients reporting ongoing pain may be at higher risk for current and incident cognitive impairment and physical debility.”

Pain Can Compound Mental Health Issues

The authors go on to make another key point about the problems associated with persistent pain and the onset of cognitive problems like dementia. Since individuals with pain oftentimes take opioids or other painkillers, cognitive decline can make it difficult for the patient to remember to take their pills or to get the correct dosage, which can be downright dangerous.

“Elderly people need to maintain their cognition to stay independent,” said Whitlock. “Up to one in three older people suffer from chronic pain, so understanding the relationship between pain and cognitive decline is an important first step toward finding ways to help this population.”

However, the study says the results don’t paint a perfect picture of the link between chronic pain and cognitive decline. Since a good deal of patients are on a variety of different pain medications to help control their pain, researchers said that the pills could be contributing to dementia and other cognitive problems, and pain may not play a role.

Hopefully future studies will look closer at the role opioids may play in cognitive decline. Regardless, this study is just more proof that we need to be investing more time and energy into seriously working to find solutions to the myriad of chronic pain problems in the US and throughout the world.