Fact or Fiction: Chronic Pain Affects Everyone the Same

by Celeste Cooper, RN Health Professional

Some believe chronic pain is a disease because of similarities in the brain. However, its source, stigma, coping strategies, support, personal impact, and philosophies of how to treat it are quite different. So, what is fact and what is fiction?

Crowd

Chronic pain is a serious health concern

FACT:

According to the Institute of Medicine Report, Relieving Pain in America (2011), over 100 million adults live with chronic pain—that’s more than one in three adults. And, more adult Americans live with chronic pain than those afflicted by heart disease, diabetes and cancer combined.

Pain level meter indicate maximum

Chronic pain is the same for everyone

FACT and FICTION:

According to a study in PLOS One, specific structural brain changes are seen across the chronic pain spectrum. However, our experiences and activities of daily living are impacted differently. Our symptoms, pain patterns, and intensity are diverse with differing contributing factors.

Sick lady with pills and towel compress

Depression causes chronic pain*

FICTION:

We experience symptoms of depression because we have lost control over important aspects of our lives. But, as with any chronic illness, we do better with therapy that helps us find emotional balance.

*Certain mental health disorders may cause somatic symptoms, including pain.

Senior man having a neck pain

Everyone will experience chronic pain with aging

FICTION:

A literature review done by S. Thielke, et al. (2012) says there are four myths related to aging. One of those myths is that there is a direct relationship between pain and age. Pain with aging is “not inevitable,” it is a “stereotype.”

Young office woman feeling backache

Chronic pain is constant

FICTION:

Criteria for chronic pain includes “pain that lasts for at least a month beyond what would be expected from the illness or injury; pain that recurs on and off for at least three months; and pain that accompanies a long-standing condition.”

Oxycodone opioid tablets

Opioids always lead to addiction

FICTION:

While patients do better with a holistic approach and opioids should be a last resort, some patients cannot find relief without them. That does not make them an addict. There is a difference between opioid addiction and tolerance.

Multi-ethnic businesspeople having tug of war

Stigma of chronic pain exists for all

FACT:

Those of us who live with chronic pain have felt judged for something we struggle to change, but usually can’t. Disbelief by others leads to mistrust, threatens our self-esteem, and affects our relationships.

Doctor speaking with cheerful young patient

Treatment should always be individualized

FACT:

A host of diseases, events, or injuries can cause chronic pain and each one should be addressed specifically. For example, the treatment for complex regional pain syndrome is not the same for myofascial pain syndrome. We should expect an individualized plan that is specific to our needs.

People drawing in art class

Final thoughts

“Personalized medicine is an art that advocates for the patient, not the pocket or convenience of the medical system.”

― Melissa Cady, Paindemic

Celeste Cooper, RN
Meet Our Writer
Celeste Cooper, RN

Celeste Cooper, R.N., is a freelance writer focusing on chronic pain and fibromyalgia. She is lead author of Integrative therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain and the Broken Body, Wounded Spirit: Balancing the See-Saw of Chronic Pain book series. She enjoys her family, writing and advocating, photography, and nature. Connect with Celeste through Twitter @PainedInkSlayer.