I wanted to do a post in honour of September being Pain Awareness Month, to show that pain is complex and that you’re not alone if you struggle with chronic pain.
Pain can affect you physically, socially and psychologically, impacting everything from sleep and mental wellbeing, to work and relationships. Acute pain, such as following a bone break or muscle sprain, is generally short lived, compared to chronic pain, which is ongoing (generally considered a period of over 3 months). For those with the latter, relentless pain can be a constant battle.
Chronic pain can arise for various reasons or as a result of numerous conditions, from nerve damage following injury, rheumatoid arthritis and ageing, to migraines, CRPS, MS and fibromyalgia, to name but a few examples. A BMJ study review suggested a 43% prevalence of chronic pain in the UK, equating to 28 million people. Meanwhile, other research suggests around 100 million Americans, and 1.5 billion people worldwide, suffer from chronic pain. Pain is a problem.
Treating pain is complex. There’s a lot of debate over treatment and media attention on the ‘opioid crisis’. There’s a range of over the counter and prescription medications, as well as non-medicinal interventions to ease symptoms, such as acupuncture, swimming or heat pads. It’s wise to be cautious and to investigate the options open to you, working with your doctor or specialist to see what choices are best for you so that you can discover the treatments that are the most effective and best tolerated. Medications and non-medicinal therapies don’t tend to make the pain go away, but they can help to alleviate it; finding what works with the least side-effects can be a lengthy process of trial and error.
Managing pain on a day to day basis is challenging to say the least. Pacing is one aspect of pain management that many will be familiar with. Frustrating as it may be, pacing can be crucial in minimising burnout and putting the focus back on self care. Reach out for support and talk to others if you can. There are online forums, blogs and support groups, many of which can be found on Facebook, where you will find a lot of others in a similar boat, each trying to navigate the difficult days. Not only can this help you feel a little less alone, it may open up new avenues for you to explore and to find suggestions from others to try. There’s absolutely no weakness in seeking help, whether physical or psychological, in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
There are various things I’d like others to know when raising awareness about chronic pain. For instance :
- One doesn’t simply “get over” pain. While attitude and perspective play their own roles, it’s not as easy as “mind over matter”. Pain is real, it’s alive, and it’s debilitating.
- There are okay days, awful days, better days and everything in between. Not every day is the same and this means pain is often unpredictable, as is the case with many aspects of chronic illness.
- Those with chronic pain may look “fine”, but pain tends to be invisible. Sufferers can become adept at putting on appearances and getting through the day, not showing the pain they feel and often not talking about it openly.
- Pain medication can help mitigate some pain and make it more manageable; it doesn’t make it magically disappear.
- It’s not a competition and one person’s experience shouldn’t be compared to the next. Whether moderate or extreme, whether one hour a day or constant. It’s okay to not be okay and to feel rubbish about it and to vent your frustration with pain.
- Respect individuality. Everyone has their own pain tolerance level, their own opinions on medication, their own ways of managing pain, and their own unique experience of pain.
- Chronic pain arises for numerous reasons, it’s sadly all too common to varying degrees, and it can have a huge knock-on effect to all areas of life.