Treating Chronic Pain: Little Progress Has Been Made

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • Despite the fact that the U.S. Congress declared 2000 - 2010 to be The Decade of Pain Control and Research, an article in this month's journal The Lancet reveals that little has changed for those who live with chronic pain. 

    Researchers, led by Dennis C. Turk, PhD, Professor of Anesthesiology and Pain Research at the University of Washington School of Medicine, reviewed medical literature for the past decade, including systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and guidelines on osteoarthritis, neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia, and low-back pain.  What they found was something of a good news / bad news scenario.

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    Good news:  Scientists now have a better understanding of the underlying pathology of pain – how and why we feel pain. 

    Bad news:  This new-found understanding has not yet translated into more effective treatments for patients.

    The researchers surveyed a number of different treatments and found:

    • Only about half of patients treated had any reduction in their pain.
    • The average pain reduction was only about 30%.

    They concluded that currently available treatments only provide modest improvements in pain and minimal improvements in physical and emotional functioning.

    Dr. Turk suggests that a more holistic attitude toward treating pain would be a better approach.  Treatment should individualized, focusing on the whole person and taking physical, emotional, social and environmental factors into consideration. 

    Since no single type of treatment is able to treat pain sufficiently, combination therapy is recommended.  This may include one or more medications, lifestyle changes, psychological treatments, and/or physical therapy. 

    My Thoughts...

    While I'm most definitely not happy about the current inadequacy of chronic pain treatment revealed by this study, I can't feign surprise.  Those of us who live with chronic pain know all too well that our pain is not taken seriously enough nor treated well enough. 

    I am, however, very glad that these facts have been brought to the attention of the medical community by a well-known and respected pain specialist and printed in a prestigous medical journal.  I can only hope that other medical professionals will begin to take notice.

    According to the World Health Organization, 20% of people live with chronic pain.  That means one out of every five people in the world is living in pain every day!  Why is this not making headlines?  Why are researchers not chomping at the bit to find a better way to relieve pain? 

    We have to keep speaking out and making our voices heard.  It takes many years to discover and develop new treatments, so we need to continue pushing and encouraging researchers, as well as those who fund them, to get started now.  We deserve to have our pain taken seriously.  And anything that affects one out of every five people worldwide should be a high priority for researchers. 
    Turk, D., et al. (2011). Treatment of non-cancer pain. The Lancet, 377(9784), 2226-2235.

    Walsh, Nancy. (2011, June 23). Little progress seen in treating chronic pain. MedPage Today.


Published On: June 28, 2011