While chronic pain affects nearly 20% of the U.S. population, few people know much about it. Consequently, many misconceptions surround chronic pain, and many people who suffer from it face undeserved stigma. Before we begin to discuss the misconceptions around chronic pain, we first need to determine what it is.
In short, chronic pain is pain that lasts for an extended period of time. There are many causes of chronic pain, including cancer, arthritis, trauma, fibromyalgia, and endometriosis. Chronic pain comes in many different forms: cramps, headaches, nerve pain, back pain, and muscle pain, just to name a few.
These are some common misconceptions concerning chronic pain:
1. Chronic Pain is The Same as Acute Pain
The first major misconception surrounding chronic pain is that it is the same as acute pain. This, of course, is not true. Acute pain is caused by damaged tissue, like a broken bone or a cut. Chronic pain, on the other hand, is not typically caused by tissue damage. If damaged tissue heals and pain persists long after the healing process, that can also be classified as chronic pain. Some examples of pain persisting after healing include ghost pains and muscle atrophy from lack of movement.
So acute pain can cause chronic pain, but many different kinds of pain aren’t caused by tissue damage as well. Musculoskeletal pain, nerve pain, and headaches can be brought on without tissue damage, and all require different treatments.
2. Pain is Always a Sign Something is Wrong
The idea that if you’re in pain, something must be wrong is far from true as well. Pain is the body’s response to certain stimuli. Sometimes, if signals for pain misfire, someone may experience pain without warning or probable cause. Other times, pain is caused by cognition. For example, a person’s stress level or mood might affect how they feel pain. Finally, chronic pain may also be genetic. Frequent headaches or arthritis may be passed down in someone’s family, so someone who is in perfect physical health may still develop chronic pain.
3. Chronic Pain is “All in Your Head”
While it is true chronic pain can sometimes be caused by traumatic events, stress, and other cognition-based aspects with no signs of bodily damage, that is not always the case. For example, pain can come from an unseen cause, like a pinched nerve or endometriosis—both of which may not be visible to someone on the outside, but are debilitating to those it affects.
Pain caused by cognition is by no means insignificant either. Mental health is important, and just like depression, chronic pain can create or exasperate a depressive cycle: pain prevents an individual from doing activities they enjoy, lack of exercise causes more pain, and the cycle continues. Fortunately, psychologists can work alongside physiotherapists to help people with chronic pain find positive coping strategies that work alongside pain management.
Overall, it is important to keep in mind that even if someone else cannot see why you’re in pain, that does not make your pain any less legitimate.
4. Chronic Pain Can Kill You
Chronic pain is a serious condition that affects many people, but the pain itself cannot kill someone. It can, however, make life uncomfortable and negatively affect one’s mood. Chronic pain can also prevent people from getting jobs or doing the activities they enjoy. Finally, frequent, long-term pain can cause depression and even thoughts of suicide in some cases. Just because chronic pain isn’t deadly, doesn’t mean that it isn’t serious. People whose chronic pain affects their mental health might benefit from counseling.
5. It is Better to Just “Suck it Up”
This misconception goes along with the last one: you can’t always just “suck it up” when it comes to chronic pain. For some, debilitating, frequent pain is completely impossible to deal with alone. For others, their pain may be manageable with the right treatments. In any case, “just suck it up” is an invalidating phrase that diminishes the effect chronic pain has had on an individual.
Remember: everyone deals with pain differently, and chronic pain has many causes, including some that may be hard to notice for people without it.
Treatments for Chronic Pain
Fortunately, there are lots of treatments for chronic pain! Since there are so many different causes, there are an equal number of solutions to help those affected manage their pain. For some, painkilling drugs are effective on their own. For others, orthopedic braces can help manage pain by keeping affected areas from moving in ways that cause discomfort. Hot and cold therapies can soothe muscles and reduce swelling. For example, paraffin wax baths are effective for relieving arthritis pain in the hands and feet. Cold baths can reduce muscle spasms as well.
TENS and EMS units can also help with managing chronic pain. While often used in physical therapy for pain management, these machines can be purchased for the home. These units can reduce pain by stimulating muscles without straining them, and can reduce muscle spasms and tension in the body. Remember to speak with a primary care physician to determine what kinds of pain management therapy work best for you.
If you or a loved one is suffering from chronic pain, be sure to talk with your doctor. To browse pain management items, visit Medical Supply Depot.