Ten Myths Of Chronic Pain
Misconceptions about chronic pain can do harm to people with legitimate medical problems. Patients with chronic pain can and should be treated. Dispelling these damaging myths should raise awareness and encourage more people to seek help with a professional trained in treating chronic pain.
Chronic pain is defined as pain that persists for at least 6 months. It may result from an initial injury or problem, such as a herniated disk, serious infection, or surgery. There may be an ongoing cause of pain, such as arthritis, scar, or cancer. Some people suffer chronic pain in the absence of any past injury or evidence of damage to the body. Unfortunately, many people with chronic pain do not get the help they need, and the effects may be devastating, not only for the sufferer, but also for an entire family.
Chronic pain is a huge problem in terms of its human and economic toll -- it disables more people than cancer or heart disease, and the annual cost to society in terms of medical treatment, lost working days, decreased productivity and workers compensation is a staggering $100 billion a year.
Myth #1: If the doctor can’t find anything wrong medically with a patient with chronic pain, it must be "in their head.” Maybe they’re crazy.
Fact: Chronic pain is not “in your head.” It is a legitimate medical condition that can and should be treated. Unfortunately, the exact cause of chronic pain cannot always be found. Pain is a complex personal experience and not all doctors have received adequate training to treat it. Pain management specialists are specifically trained to recognize and treat common and unusual conditions that cause ongoing pain. Although not all pain has an identifiable cause, there is an effective treatment for most painful conditions.
Myth #2: If people seek treatment or complain about their pain, it means they’re weak.
Fact: Seeking treatment has nothing to do with being weak. Many people with chronic pain feel trapped and helpless, and do not want to burden anyone else with their problem. It is important for them to realize that there is no need to suffer because effective treatments are available.
Myth #3: People who take powerful opiate ("narcotic") pain medication become drug addicts.
Fact: Opiates are highly effective for many types of pain and can be given safely. Physical dependence from pain relievers is different from addiction. Drug addiction is characterized by compulsive craving and use of a drug, which results in physical, psychological, and social harm to the user. An addict’s drug use continues in spite of predictable, consistent harm (self-destructive behavior). The vast majority of people taking opiate medications for pain management do NOT become addicted. Drug dependence, where the body becomes used to the presence of a drug, can occur with the prolonged use of some pain relievers.
Myth #4: The side effects of opiate painkillers turn people into zombies and can stop their breathing.
Fact: Most side effects are mild, tolerable, treatable, occur at the beginning of therapy, and fade with time. Common side effects include constipation, drowsiness, and dry mouth. Careful adjustment of dosages and attention to patient concerns help alleviate most side effects.
Myth #5: People with chronic pain treated with opiate pain medications will have to take more and more medication as time goes by to get the same pain relief (tolerance).
Fact: Most patients have stable dosages with time. Increases in medication dosage usually result from worsening physical or psychological status.
Myth #6: Some people don’t want to get better because they benefit from being in pain.