“Chronic pain affects about 100 million American adults—more than the total affected by heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined.” So said the Institute of Medicine last year in its report Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research
Yet despite the fact that chronic pain affects so many people, it is still very misunderstood by society at large and sometimes even by the patients themselves. Following are 10 of the most common myths regarding chronic pain.
Myth #1: Dealing with chronic pain is merely a case of mind over matter.
There is little doubt that our minds can play a significant role in helping us cope with our pain. Many people have reported success in reducing the suffering they experience due to their pain using mindfulness meditation techniques. However, the pain and whatever is causing it is still very real and needs to be properly treated. The best methods of dealing with chronic pain usually involve both mind AND matter––i.e., mental and physical techniques.
Myth #2: People often exaggerate their pain to get sympathy.
While I have known two or three people that I suspect exaggerated their pain to elicit sympathy from others, most chronic pain patients I know tend to minimize their pain to try to seem as “normal” as possible. We don't want to be perceived as complainers so we keep much of our pain experience to ourselves.
Myth #3: People who claim to be in pain all the time are just lazy.
It's very difficult for people who don't live with chronic pain to understand how anyone could really be in pain all or most of the time, so they sometimes come to the conclusion that we must just be lazy. When they see us functioning fairly well on a good day, it can be particularly hard to understand why we can't work or participate in an activity the next day. They don't realize that pain levels can fluctuate and we can have both good and bad days. Nor do they realize just how incapacitating chronic pain can be.
Myth #4: The only way to treat chronic pain is with medication.
The most effective treatment plans for chronic pain often involve a combination of therapies, which may include medication, exercise, physical therapy, complementary therapies such as acupuncture, massage therapy, meditation or yoga.
Myth #5: The only effective medications for pain are opioids.
While opioids are the best known medications for pain, they are not always the most effective medication depending upon the individual patient and the type of pain they are experiencing. Other classes of medication frequently used to treat various kinds of chronic pain include antidepressants, anti-convulsants and sometimes a new class of medication called biologics used for treating pain conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
Myth #6: If you take opioid pain medications regularly, you will get addicted.