116 Million Suffer from Chronic Pain

One hundred and sixteen million. Let that sink in for a while. That’s a staggering number. That’s the number of people that The Institute of Medicine estimates are suffering with chronic pain. My guess is that if you’re reading this you either currently suffer with pain or have at some point in your life. I have, and it’s miserable (to say the least). I read this NY Times article the other day, and my heart broke for chronic pain sufferers all over the world. It wasn’t breaking because I felt bad for them. It was breaking because of the absolute crap that they’re getting told about their respective conditions. The information coming from the health practitioners is a JOKE, and someone has to step up and say something. And, yes, you guessed it…I can’t keep my mouth shut on this one.

From the very beginning, author Tara Parker-Pope had my attention:

Most doctors view pain as a symptom of an underlying problem — treat the disease or the injury, and the pain goes away.

For a second, a split-second, I thought this was going to be a great article. I agree that pain is a symptom of an underlying problem. However, to say that you can, “treat the disease or the injury, and the pain goes away” isn’t necessarily the case. That’s like your mechanic saying, “Sir, your bald tire is the symptom of an underlying problem. We’re just going to get you a new tire and the problem will go away.” Uh…really? If my mechanic told me that, I’d be finding a new one. Immediately. Why? Because he’s not fixing the cause. He’s simply fixing the symptom and selling me a new tire.

I had to disagree with a quote from Melanie Thernstrom, author of “The Pain Chronicles: Cures, Myths, Mysteries, Prayers, Diaries, Brain Scans, Healing and the Science of Suffering,” who was quoted in the article, when she said, “Most people with chronic pain are still being treated as if pain is a symptom of an underlying problem.” While I agree that that is what NEEDS to happen, I believe most people with chronic pain are still being treated as if the pain IS the problem. Rarely is the site of the pain the source of the pain, yet rarely do practitioners move past the location of where someone hurts. If your back hurts, they treat your back. If your shoulder hurts, they treat your shoulder. This becomes a vicious cycle that leaves you with more questions than answers and more pain than relief.

In addition, The Institute of Medicine claims that “chronic pain often outlasts the original illness or injury, causing changes in the nervous system that worsen over time…Chronic pain becomes its own disease.” Disease? Really? I must not have gotten the memo that chronic pain is the equivalent of something as serious as cancer. I’ve personally dealt with chronic pain, so believe me when I say I’m NOT attempting to diminish what you all have gone through. I believe your pain is very real…I just don’t believe it’s a disease. I do believe Ms. Thernstrom is right on the money, however, when she says that chronic pain gets worse if left untreated. I just think that the focus needs to be take off of the symptom itself.

Thankfully the article does encourage patients to pay attention early to pain signals rather than waiting until it gets worse, and I wholeheartedly agree. Not listening to your body and addressing a pain symptom early is the equivalent of hearing a clunking noise in your engine and turning up the radio louder so that you don’t notice it. It’s only going to get worse over time, cause more damage and cost you more money.

Folks, you have to get to the cause of your pain. You can no longer afford to simply treat the symptom. If you do, you’ll always be chasing the symptom with similar stories to tell like the hurting patients who were quoted in the article. Like I said before, this article breaks my heart. If you’re suffering with chronic pain, you deserve to hear the truth about your body–your body can heal, but only when we discover the root of the problem.

QUESTION: What have you been told about your pain? And, what do you believe about your pain?