10 Common Chronic Pain Myths

by Karen Lee Richards Patient Advocate

Despite the fact that chronic pain affects near 100 million American adults, it is still very misunderstood by society at large and sometimes even by the patients themselves. The following are 10 of the most common myths regarding chronic pain.

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Dealing with chronic pain is merely a case of mind over matter.

Many people have reported success in reducing the suffering they experience due to their pain using mindfulness meditation techniques. However, the best methods of dealing with chronic pain usually involve both mind AND matter (i.e., mental and physical techniques).

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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.

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People who claim to be in pain all the time are just lazy.

For people without chronic pain, it can be hard to understand people with chronic pain can't work or participate in activities. 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.

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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, and complementary therapies such as massage therapy, meditation, or yoga.

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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 and anti-convulsants.

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If you take opioid pain medications regularly, you will get addicted.

Anyone who takes opioids on a regular basis will become dependent upon them, meaning they will have to taper off gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms. But very few chronic pain patients exhibit the compulsive drug-seeking behaviors of someone who is addicted.

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You have to push through the pain.

Pushing ourselves to do too much despite the pain will not result in gain but may cause additional injury. However, sometimes we do need to push ourselves to get up and move around to avoid becoming stiff and actually increasing our pain. If you have any doubts about what activities you should and shouldn't do, talk to your doctor.

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Chronic pain means constant pain.

According to a survey conducted by the American Pain Society, 61 percent of people with chronic pain experience frequent flares of pain as opposed to constant pain. For most of us, the pain and its severity will vary from day to day. Try to pace yourself so you'll have more good days ahead.

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Your family doctor should be able to treat your chronic pain.

Most doctors receive very little training in pain managementl. So it's often necessary to see a physician who specializes in pain management. To find a board-certified pain management specialist, contact the American Academy of Pain Management or the American Academy of Pain Medicine.

Senior man with back pain getting help from his wife.
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Pain is just a normal part of getting older.

While certain painful conditions like arthritis and bursitis are more common as you age, they should not be considered “normal” and ignored. Any pain that becomes chronic and/or interferes with your life needs to be addressed with your doctor.

Karen Lee Richards
Meet Our Writer
Karen Lee Richards

Karen is the co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She writes for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.