Almost all people will experience acute pain, which signals to the brain that the body is in danger, while fewer people will experience chronic pain, ongoing pain that has much more complex origins.
A 2016 report revealed that around one in five Australians aged 45 an over, and one in four adults over the age of 85, reported experiencing chronic pain. Chronic pain generally lasts between three and six months and can range from mild to severe. It often causes stress and, in some cases, can be disabling and affect a patient’s quality of life.
Chronic pain can result from injury, musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis, surgery, migraines, endometriosis, cancer and other medical conditions. However, it does not always have a distinct cause.
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As there are no tests to detect or explain the impact of pain on a patient’s life, many are left feeling misunderstood and isolated, as though they alone must prove that their experience is valid. This leaves many patients feeling as though their doctor doesn’t understand the breadth of their experience.
When a patient doesn’t feel validated by medical professionals, it can also make them feel more distant from the people in their lives, as it may be even more difficult for people with little or no medical training to understand. These feelings can cause a patient to become less motivated, inhibiting them from moving in a positive direction.
Read more: Mind over matter – the dictates of pain
Dr Peter Abaci, an anaesthesiologist and pain specialist, told WebMD: “I’ve learned that one of the most powerful things I can do when I meet a new patient is to provide a sense of validation.”
Dr Abaci suggests three tips to help patients live with chronic pain.
Firstly, know that there are millions of other people out there experiencing similar problems with pain. Making connections with these people can help to validate your experiences, empower you and to share advice and empathy. You can find support groups for people suffering from chronic pain online and on Facebook.
Don’t focus on test results
Dr Abaci suggests that both the medical field and patients often put too much emphasis on tests. While many people believe that test results and diagnosable conditions can indicate how much pain a person is experiencing, this is not true. Many of the worst pain problems cannot be diagnosed by tests at all. Results from blood tests, MRIs or X-rays cannot indicate how much pain a patient ‘should’ be feeling. If you or someone close to you experiences chronic pain, it is important to respect and believe what they are saying.
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You are not your pain
Dr Abaci says: “At the end of the day, you can only do so much to help doctors or important people in your life understand what you are going through, so don’t let your sense of self-worth and self-esteem get too wrapped up by how others see your pain.”
You are not defined by your medical conditions. It is important that you continue to engage with your hobbies, pursue your passions and stay in contact with friends and family.
Have you or someone close to you experienced chronic pain? Do you agree with Dr Abaci’s three tips? What else would you recommend to someone living with chronic pain?
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