Chronic pain impacts one in five Australians. While most common in women and people who are over 45, it can also impact men, children, and adolescents. As one of the most common reasons people seek medical help, it is one of the most neglected areas of healthcare. Chronic pain sufferers spend months, even years, trying to overcome their pain. Oftentimes, the advice or treatment that they receive does not help overcome their pain.
The Demographics of Chronic Pain
According to Chronic Pain Australia, chronic pain sufferers come from all walks of life and experience a wide variety of issues when trying to get help for their pain. These include:
- A lack of understanding and empathy when trying to get help.
- One uniform approach to treating their pain, the most common theme being medications and antidepressants.
- Having to see multiple healthcare professionals when seeking treatment for their chronic pain.
Chronic pain sufferers tend to deal with physiotherapists and psychologists, followed by pain specialists and exercise psychologists. Some chronic pain sufferers don’t even see a healthcare professional.
How Prescription Medications Make the Cycle of Chronic Pain Worse
In Australia, 70% of people working with a general practitioner are prescribed some sort of medication to deal with their pain. Generally speaking, opioids are the most commonly prescribed medication for pain and chronic pain sufferers are three times more likely to be prescribed opioids than people without chronic pain. Some commonly prescribed opioid painkillers include fentanyl, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.
Some chronic pain sufferers may become addicted to painkillers and other medications after multiple doctor visits where their patient care experience involved the doctor not understanding the pain or being able to accurately diagnose the cause.
Chronic pain sufferers who become addicted to and try to refrain from using their painkillers also experience mental health challenges. A study in 2006 revealed that 21% of suicides likely involved a mental health condition and 20% of chronic pain sufferers have depression and other mood disorders. In Australia, it is estimated that 823 people lost their lives due to an opioid addiction that was the direct result of chronic pain.
Generally speaking, many chronic pain sufferers become frustrated with their healthcare providers for the following reasons regarding prescription medications:
- Opioids and prescription medications have side effects.
- Medication is the only thing that is used to treat the pain.
- Many patients feel like addicts when they are prescribed medications or pick them up from the pharmacy.
- Some chronic pain sufferers feel like medications are often overprescribed.
- Sometimes, chronic pain sufferers may seek multiple medical opinions and be prescribed the same medicaion.
Unhealthy Habits That Stem From the Cycle of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain causes a great deal of stress and negative self-thoughts that can lead to unhealthy habits. Some of these unhealthy habits include:
- Smoking: Smoking can actually impact the way the brain responds to pain, making chronic pain sufferers less resilient to a bout of pain.
- Not Getting Enough Sleep: On average, the typical chronic pain sufferer has a 42-minute sleep debt, which can increase stress and anxiety.
- Unhealthy Diet and No Exercise: A sedentary lifestyle and poor diet can place stress on the joints and create inflammation, which makes chronic pain worse.
- Drinking Alcohol: Chronic alcohol abuse is fairly common among people who suffer from chronic pain. In the United States, 28% of people who suffer from chronic pain develop an alcohol addiction, which can amplify the pain.
- Stressing the Little Things: Stress is a driver of chronic pain. More stress can lead to health issues, such as higher blood pressure. Moreover, stress can exacerbate chronic pain.
- Letting the Chronic Pain Go Untreated: According to Chronic Pain Australia, 10% of people reported that they don’t see a healthcare professional, indicating that they don’t actively seek out other help for their chronic pain. Not dealing with chronic pain can lead to other health issues as well as allowing for the pain to progressively get worse.
Overcoming the Cycle of Chronic Pain Involves More Than Just Healthcare
Chronic pain is not just reinforced by the body and mind, but by the world around us. There are some general behaviors from caregivers that may amplify or reinforce pain in chronic pain sufferers:
- Acknoweleding Pain: When a caregiver expresses compassion, this can draw attention to the pain.
- Distracting From the Pain: Trying to draw attention away from the pain can also have an impact on chronic pain.
- Ignoring the Pain: An action, such as leaving the room, may also serve to amplify an experience of pain in a chronic pain sufferer.
For the individual chronic pain sufferer, similar “self-actions” are learned experiences that are conditioned over time and may have an impact on the frequency and intensity of a pain episode.
To overcome chronic pain, the individual must unravel years of learned experiences. These experiences deal with how the individual processes their pain. By finding the underlying cause of the pain in the present, the cause of the pain can be unraveled in the past, ultimately overcoming the cause of the chronic pain. This is where Alleviate Pain can help the chronic pain sufferer the most.