We are a nation in pain – chronic pain.
More than 100 million adults experience chronic pain – nearly one third of all Americans. Chronic pain affects more people than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. This year, 36 million people will miss work because they are in pain and 63 percent will make costly lifestyle changes, including switching jobs, hiring help and moving into a more manageable home, all because their pain is overtaking other aspects of their lives.
Chronic pain is different from acute pain. Maybe it starts with an illness or trauma, but rather than healing, pain signals are trapped in the nervous system, triggering an inescapable loop of pain that lasts for months or even years. If you suffer from regular back trouble, fibromyalgia, migraines or arthritis, you understand the intolerable world of chronic pain.
There is no question chronic pain is an epidemic in this country. For many who don’t suffer, it’s hard to understand the gravity of the problem, but to put it in perspective, chronic pain costs our nation $635 billion annually – or $2,000 a year for every single person living in the U.S.
Much of the silence stems from the fact that chronic pain is complicated. It can be hard to pinpoint and treat, mainly because it is personal and the diagnosis tends to be subjective based on the individual patient experience. Compounding the problem, prescription drugs like morphine, codeine and hydrocodone that are sometimes used to treat chronic pain are also fueling the opioid epidemic that claims tens of thousands of lives each year, leading to dangerous stigmas that confuse chronic pain sufferers with drug abusers.
If you or someone you know is struggling to deal with chronic pain, here are four things you can do today to get the quality, personalized care you deserve.
- Find a provider you trust. This may seem obvious, but finding a caregiver you know and trust is a critical first step in receiving quality care. Take time to build a rapport with your provider, and if you don’t have one, take the time to find one. Nurse practitioners are specially trained to diagnose and treat chronic pain, and can prescribe medicines and therapies in all 50 states.
- Be open and honest. The best provider relationships are built on an open dialogue. Share everything you can about your history and your condition. Be especially clear about any personal risk factors like drug or alcohol abuse, sleep trouble or anxiety. The more your provider knows, the better treatment they can prescribe.
- Keep a pain journal. Chronic pain can be hard to describe, and sometimes patients feel like they are in constant pain, when really, their pain fluctuates or has subtle nuances that can be clues for your provider. Track how you are feeling and the range of your pain so you and your provider can address the nature and extent of your discomfort.
- Explore all of the treatment options. Prescription narcotics are not the only treatment options available. In fact, only one in five patients find opioids to be effective in treating chronic pain, while 40 percent believed massage therapy and chiropractic care worked well. Nurse practitioners are specially trained in the most up-to-date treatment options and can help you find a plan that works best for you.
Chronic pain is arguably the biggest health care problem in this country, but it is still largely misunderstood, and we need to change that. If stigmas or a lack of information are keeping you from seeking the treatment you deserve, know that there are providers who understand the complexities of chronic pain who can literally help save your life. If you are not working with one already, go out and find one, and together you can tackle your pain to get back the life you deserve.