Fact or Fiction: Chronic Pain Affects Everyone the Same

Celeste Cooper, RN | Apr 6th 2017 May 30th 2017

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Final thoughts

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

― Melissa Cady, Paindemic