Chronic pain

What Are the Myths and Facts About Treating Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is invariably associated with so many misconceptions and myths. When the mild pain that you can afford to ignore initially becomes acute and continues to bother you for a longer period of time, then you start thinking in terms of getting rid of it.

But you are undecided as to whether to go out for a jog or soothe your muscles and bones by taking complete rest? How about taking opioid, the well-known pain killers available at the chemist’s shop? And what about the innumerable advertisements proclaiming �?instant cures’ that you come across in newspaper and television? Sometimes, the pain becomes so excruciating that the person suffering from it would try anything to get rid of it. At times, this can force people to try something which can even be harmful.

Always consult your doctor for chronic pain

It is imperative to know what treatment options you have to get to rid of or at least to manage your chronic pain that has bogged you down for so long. Some renowned experts in the field of pain management shed light on the common myths and facts about chronic pain.

Fact and myths about chronic pain

Myth – Treating the underlying cause is necessary to cure chronic pain
Many people associate a chronic pain with some sort of underlying cause and believe that instead of just trying to address the pain, it is important to treat the cause behind it for permanent cure. But it is easier said than done. Anne Louise Oaklander, MD, PhD, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School says that only a thorough check-up of the condition will reveal if there indeed is a relationship between the pain and any associated disease which needs attention.

Sometimes, there may not be any real or treatable conditions that can be correlated to chronic pain. Some other times, the patient may still have the pain even after undergoing treatments for the underlying cause. Like Steven P. Cohen, MD, director of pain research at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C points out, “ In case of some patients, no clear-cut disease or condition could be found that can be responsible for the pain even after conducting a whole range of tests.” So, treatment of the pain as well as the underlying cause if any is the best approach. This of course can only be done by taking the help of medical experts.

Fact: Any pain however mild it may be needs medical attention
Many people often continue to live with the pain throughout their life. Since they are able to bear the pain and can go through their daily activities unhindered, they believe that it doesn’t warrant medical consultation.

But diagnosis and its treatment of any mild pain is important for it can either be the result of an underlying disease or at times, can lead to an serious chronic pain. Chronic pain develops gradually but you end up with some serious problem if left untreated. What is more, you might get used to coping with it by using the over the counter medicines and pain killers, which can be harmful and dangerous the long run. In some cases, it can also result in sleeping disorder and depression.

Myth: Taking bed rest is the most effective cure
It was earlier believed that having bed rest is the most proper way to treat chronic pains like back pains. Experts do not advise it any more. Cohen says that bed rest is not that helpful for most chronic pains including back pain. On the contrary, it may sometimes accentuate the pain and can also make it worse. Going through the normal routine of physical activities is better way to get relief.
Having said that it is true that taking proper rest is necessary in case of an injury. Hence, going by the medical advice is the best approach.

Myth: The pain is bound to increase progressively with age
Some people are under the impression that the pain they suffer from would definitely worsen with passing age. According to Cohen, even some doctors have this pre-conceived notion and take it for granted. And when an old man approaches them with chronic pain, they do not try to make a detailed diagnosis of it.
While it is true that the pain we feel or the conditions like arthritis worsen with age, they still can be treated.

Fact: Chronic pain and depression are related
Chronic pain has also got a psychological root. It can be the manifestation of anxiety and depression. According to Cohen, there exists a definite relationship between depression and pain but it is difficult to establish in what way or to what extent it is responsible for it. Not surprisingly, some people do not buy this idea.

A relationship between emotional turmoil or the disturbed state of mind and chronic pain is also substantiated through brain imaging studies. It shows that the same parts of the brain is activated both by physical as well as psychological trauma.

That apart, it has been found that certain anti-depressant medicines can alleviate chronic pain. So, at times, doctors also prescribe an anti-depression drug for chronic pain even if you may not be suffering from any psychological disorder.

Myth: Drug addiction can result if you take opioid pain killers
Many people are apprehensive that taking opioid for a long period would make them dependant on it. This fear of becoming addicted to it forbids them to take medication even if they may be suffering from severe chronic pain. So, Cohen suggests using opioid for short-term use after taking the advice of the doctor. In such cases, the chances of addiction will be less.
Oaklander agrees with Cohen and says that some people have to be cautious while taking opioids. This is so especially for people who have a family history of addiction. But such people can surely use the drug after consulting a pain specialist.

Myth: Opioid will relieve you of chronic pain for good
Using opioids is undoubtedly a good and effective treatment for chronic pain. But the truth is it is not the sure and definite way of curing chronic pain. The drug is also fraught with side effects. People often make the mistake of taking the prescription of the doctor or the use of opioid as a ticket of �?freedom from chronic pain’.

As Cohen points out, “The drug is not effective for all types of pain and also known to have the risks of side effects.” Its prolonged use makes the body dependent upon it and as the body gets acclimatised to it, higher doses are required to get relief. So, constant monitoring of the pain and treatment is necessary to avoid it.
Some evidence also suggests that opioids can make other treatment options ineffective. At times, when you use it to get relief from a pain, it can increase the pain or make it chronic. For instance, if a person suffers from mild headache will develop severe head-ache after taking high dose of opioids.

Hence, the effectiveness of opioids in curing chronic pain depends upon its cause, intensity and nature. But they are still not the only or complete treatment option. Like other treatments of chronic pain i.e. acupuncture or anti-inflammatory drugs, it is one of the way of treatment.

Fact: An all-encompassing, complete treatment of chronic pain is rare
Sometimes people are under the false notion that a sure and effective cure for their chronic pain can be indeed be found. Advertisements in the newspapers or an info-commercial aired in the television propagating such tall claims could be behind this. But such advertisements only bank on the �?hope or desperation’ of the people. There is no such single and straight way to cure the chronic pain. Coping with chronic pain instead requires adopting a whole lot of treatments like drugs, physiotherapy, counselling etc. It will take time and you can only control chronic pain after going through the different techniques.

Fact: Chronic pain is too stubborn
It may sound discouraging but you may not be cured even after going through a whole gamut of treatments by good doctors. Cohen says that it is unrealistic to expect a cure from a chronic pain that has been bothering you for two decades with a short span of time. Coping with chronic pain is a long drawn process and needs grit and perseverance in ample measure to be cured of it for good.
But do not be despondent about it. Although you may not be able to get rid of the pain completely, still with proper treatment you will surely be able to manage it. The pain will lessen considerable which will allow to you to go through the range of physical activities like bending, stretching, running or squatting. So, managing the chronic pain will usher in a qualitative change in your lifestyle.

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