Chronic Pain Affects 100 Million Americans

Written by eHealth Navigator

Most of us have experienced pain.  Pins and needles, sharp, dull, achy or burning, pain provides an unpleasant sensory reaction to injury or illness.  While many of us have suffered acute pain, which can last for days, weeks or months, a vast number of people suffer the challenge and debilitating agony of chronic pain defined as pain that lasts for six months or longer.

The American Academy of Pain Medicine ( estimates that 100 million Americans are living with chronic pain.  In fact, according to research, more Americans are affected by chronic pain than by cancer, heart disease and diabetes combined. 

Dealing with chronic pain can be overwhelming.  The good news is that there are many options to help you cope such as working with your doctors, medications and self-management techniques.
It may be hard to know when to talk to your doctor about pain, but patient advocates recommend that you talk to your primary care provider any time you have pain that concerns you.  The goal is to prevent long term pain.  If pain bothers you, then bring it up to your doctor as soon as possible.

A pain specialist is an expert at diagnosing and treating various types of pain.  Such professionals include orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists and neurologists.  Typically, a referral from a primary care physician is needed to see a pain specialist.  A pain specialist will want to hear from the primary care provider about what is going on with the patient and what has been tried thus far.

Pain relievers or “painkillers” can reduce or relieve headaches, sore muscles, aches and pains medicine.  The proper treatment depends on the underlying cause of the pain (e.g. cancer, nerve damage or arthritis).  Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines relieve some types of pain.  Common OTC medicines include acetaminophen (Tylenol), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil).
If OTC medicines aren’t enough to manage your pain, a doctor may prescribe narcotics, also known as opioid pain relievers.  Examples of these medicines include codeine, morphine and oxycodone.   These medicines work blocking feelings of pain in the brain.

While very effective for severe pain, opioid pain relievers have the potential to be addictive and should be taken only under the regular supervision of a medical professional.   The risk of addiction is real with opioids.  Pain specialists will do a good health assessment before opioids are prescribed.

Medication is not necessarily the best or first solution that should be tried for chronic pain.  Weight management, proper sleep, physical therapy and exercise all have been shown to help reduce pain.  Other strategies such as tai chi, guided imagery, acupuncture, meditation and massage also can be helpful.  Often it takes a combination of these techniques plus behavior change and a good relationship with your healthcare team to properly manage pain.

Last Updated on Thursday, 2 July 2015 12:56PM