Despite the immense number of people who suffer from chronic pain, most United States citizens underestimate the prevalence of pain. Additionally, most people are unaware of the potential severity of pain, its impact on people’s lives, and the consequences that chronic pain can have on communities.
In 2001, the American Chronic Pain Association established September as Pain Awareness Month. This was done with the help of the Partners for Understanding Pain, a group comprised of more than 50 organizations dedicated to raising the awareness of pain.
One of the main goals behind Pain Awareness Month is bringing the issue of chronic pain to light.
Pain is the primary cause of adult disability in the United States. It is responsible for more disability than heart disease, diabetes, and cancer combined. In the United States alone, 100 million people suffer from chronic pain. It’s estimated that approximately one in every three adults suffers from some form of pain.
Despite this, a survey conducted by the Partners for Understanding Pain found that almost two-thirds of people believe that something other than pain is the leading cause of disability in the United States. With this in mind, it’s unsurprising that there are several common misconceptions about pain and pain management.
These misconceptions include:
- If there is no obvious cause of pain, it must be “all in the sufferer’s head”
- Some people complain about pain for attention or sympathy
- If someone looks okay, he or she can’t be in pain
- Ignoring or pushing through pain will make it go away
- People who take opiate medications for pain become addicts
These myths about pain are not only untrue; they can be harmful to people who live with a pain condition. The idea that ignoring or pushing through pain will make it go away can encourage people to forgo treatment. This can have a seriously negative effect on physical and mental health. Also, the myths that pain without an obvious or visible source isn’t valid can make individuals hesitant to discuss their conditions with physicians, family members, and friends.
In addition, opiate medications are sometimes the best way to treat a pain condition. A good physician will maintain regular, open communication with his or her patients. Discussions about the potential risks and side effects of any medication—not just opiates—should take place regularly.
Additionally, many of the resources promoted by the American Chronic Pain Association during Pain Awareness Month are tools meant to encourage open discussion between people with chronic pain and their physicians. Pain logs and maps can help patients communicate details of their pain to physicians. Other tools, such as an ability chart, will aid in identifying tasks that are made difficult by pain so physicians can make better, more personalized suggestions for pain management.
Another common misconception about pain is that it’s a normal part of life.
While some mild, occasional pain is certainly no cause for concern, chronic pain is a different matter entirely. Many conditions are associated with chronic pain, but this pain often goes untreated or under-treated because people think it’s what’s expected. In one survey, 42% of respondents believed that pain is a normal, expected side effect of some illnesses and injuries.
Even if a condition is often accompanied by pain, this doesn’t mean that the pain must simply be tolerated. For example, pain is very common for those with cancer. It’s estimated that between 50% and 70% of cancer patients experience significant pain. However, about 95% of cancer pain cases can potentially be alleviated with proper treatment. Better communication between patients and physicians can go a long way toward making sure that pain conditions receive the proper treatment.
Additionally, most people—about 43%—believe that the typical pain patient is 65 years of age or older. In fact, 80% of people with a chronic pain condition are between the ages of 24 and 64. Pain Awareness Month is a chance to correct these misconceptions about pain through the distribution of information through outlets like the media.
The problem of chronic pain is not limited to the United States.
Because the issue of chronic pain is oftentimes overlooked, it isn’t known exactly how large an impact pain has on a global scale.
According to Medical News Today:
“The experience of pain is a universal phenomenon and relief from pain ranks among the most fundamental bases for the practice of medicine. Despite this, there has been a lack of information about the global prevalence, impact and consequences of chronic, long-term pain. This is partly because pain is frequently a symptom or a legacy of an underlying disease or injury, but also because pain itself is generally not recorded in national statistics.”
Despite the lack of information about global prevalence of pain, it’s clear that there are two serious issues in global pain management. First, pain conditions are often untreated or under-treated. For example, in Japan more than 60% of people with chronic pain received no treatment for their conditions, and 77% of people with chronic pain stated that pain was inadequately controlled.
This inadequate control of pain is due in part to the second issue in global pain management, which is the stigma surrounding opiate medications. In a report by the International Narcotic Control Board (INCB), three factors were identified in relation to the lack of availability of some pain medications.
These factors are:
- Unnecessarily strict rules and regulations
- Negative perceptions about controlled drugs
- Lack of economic means and insufficient health care resources
Global organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the International Association for the Study of Pain, are working toward bettering global pain management. They are doing this in much the same way as the American Chronic Pain Association and Partners for Understanding Pain, which is by increasing awareness, knowledge, and understanding of pain and pain management.
What will you do to recognize Pain Awareness Month?