The High Cost of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is on the rise in North America, and so is the cost of traditional treatment.

| April 2014

The Institute of Medicine reports that more than 100 million people suffer from chronic pain. Sadly, conventional pain relief treatments often don’t improve the condition. In Holistic Pain Relief (New World Library, 2013), Heather Tick, M.D. seeks to help patients get through the ins and outs of pain treatment and management. In this excerpt from “Pain, Nature’s Wake-Up Call,” Tick discusses how chronic pain has become an epidemic of its own and the cost it has on society.

Everyone knows what pain is. Most of us have known pain in our own bodies and have seen it in others. But when we really try to describe what pain is, we are often at a loss for words.

Pain itself does not have an emotional component. If you pinch yourself until it hurts, you are unlikely to react with happiness, anger, fear, or sadness. An emotional reaction usually occurs only when your pain seems to be incomprehensible or out of control, when you do not know how or when it will end. 

There are words for pain in every language. There is no nation or culture that is spared the experience. Yet the experience of pain is a solitary one. Those who are living with pain pay in immediate suffering and by not being able to live their lives fully. Those in pain feel alone, isolated in their agony, and separated from their former lives and the lives of those around them. Pain sufferers may also feel the separation that comes with the judgments of others. 

People in pain often do not “look” as though they are in pain. If they focus on their pain in conversation, or reveal their discomfort by their actions, they risk being labeled as “complainers” or “symptom magnifiers.” Animals in pain instinctively seek privacy to lick their wounds. Similarly, there may be a natural instinct in people to seek comfort in withdrawal. 

Pain is always a subjective experience. We have no ways to measure pain “objectively.” There are charts, scales, body diagrams, and ratings, but none of them measure pain the way a thermometer measures a fever. In the end, the person in pain tells us about his pain. Patients with lingering pain almost universally have their experience of pain questioned, challenged, and disbelieved by health care practitioners and by friends and family. Most of these patients also say that the vocabulary available and the scorecards used in pain clinics do not help them convey the true experience of their pain. 

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