Chronic pain is as prevalent as cancer, heart disease and diabetes combined. So why do we need to have Chronic Pain Awareness Month each September?
Imagine not being able to do the activities you once enjoyed - playing with your kids, running, golfing, shopping, working and think of your favorite activity here. Pause for a minute. How would you feel if you could no longer do it? Let it sink in. How would you feel if you could no longer do it and health professionals, family members, and colleagues did not believe you? Chronic Pain Awareness Month exists so people can learn the truth about chronic pain.
Chronic pain is real and it has the power to cause disability and destroy lives. Sadly, anyone is just one bad day away from chronic pain being their reality. I know because I have lived with five pain illnesses that started around age 16 and I have dedicated the majority of my career to helping people with fibromyalgia. There is no cure for chronic pain, but I have witnessed for many people, a level of healing or significant improvement is possible. There is plenty that can be done for chronic pain if healthcare providers and patients have the proper education, time, and patience. Money and health insurance are also factors. Living with chronic pain becomes easier if a person’s community is understanding and supportive.
Many people do not understand chronic pain. Chronic pain is not when you sprained your ankle and it took a couple of months to heal. According to the International Association for the Study of Pain, “chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts or recurs for more than three months.” Furthermore, “Chronic pain affects 20% of people worldwide. Distress, demoralization and functional impairment often accompany chronic pain, making it a major source of suffering and economic burden.” Chronic pain is complex and it impacts people physically, psychologically and socially.
People with chronic pain, including fibromyalgia a chronic pain illness that affects 3-6% of the world’s population, often feel stigmatized and alone. Sometimes even family members do not believe their loved ones in large part because fibromyalgia (and many chronic pain conditions) are invisible. Chronic pain illnesses also puzzle patients and doctors. Sadly many people with fibromyalgia tell me that their doctors believe not much can be done after they exhaust a handful of medications and treatments and have no success. This leaves people feeling hopeless. All chronic pain is complex and to manage it, multiple strategies and therapies must be used together regularly. This combination is found by trial and error - which is where time and patience come into play. Education is at the heart of this understanding.
Earlier this week the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health held a symposium to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Keynote speaker Lorimer Moseley, Ph.D., from the University of South Australia, shared his “Pain Revolution” he started in Australia. It is a touring group on bicycles that are bringing chronic pain awareness and education to communities in Australia. He shared that his revolution is restoring health in Australia. One of his Revolution stops resulted in 31 people saying they had made a recovery. According to Moseley, this outcome cost the same amount of money as it takes to pay for two spinal cord stimulators. Currently, his Revolution is a grassroots movement staffed and funded by healthcare providers, patients and people who want to make a difference for chronic pain. How great would it be if we could do this in our country and have it be supported by insurance companies? It seems like a no brainer when health economists estimate that chronic pain costs the United States $635 billion annually.
While education will not resolve chronic pain, it’s a critical step toward better managing it and it’s one of the best tools available to help people with chronic pain today. More research and research funding are desperately needed to address prevention, cure, and identify safer and more effective treatments that will be both accessible and affordable in the future.
You can make a difference in a pain patient’s life today by doing whatever you can to help spread chronic pain awareness. Maybe share this blog or another post on your social media, ask at work if you can wear jeans to bring awareness to chronic pain, donate/volunteer for a chronic pain organization, or just make time to visit with a friend or family member who has chronic pain and may be feeling isolated. If you have chronic pain, you are not alone. Connect with others at a Support & Education Group. Getting support from peers who truly understand is invaluable. Our Association has a group at Ascension Macomb-Oakland Hospital in Warren, Michigan.
Thanks for reading and raising your awareness!