During this month focused on pain, you are going to read many statistics. 100 million people are living with some form of chronic pain—more than heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer combined. Pain costs more than $600 billion dollars in lost wages, medical bills and worker compensation annually.

These statistics are important in understanding the impact of pain on a macro level: the toll it takes on our society as a whole.

Digging deep

But to truly understand pain, we also must look at its impact on a micro level—on the individual lives of people living with chronic pain.

Pain is invisible. It cannot be seen, touched or measured in any objective way. People with pain look just like you and me—they look ‘normal.’ What we can't see are the sleepless nights and the tremendous effort it took to be ready for a day’s work, a visit with the health care provider or even a social outing.

"Pain can tear families apart and destroy friendships. It can take away an individual's identity, dignity and sense of self-worth."

Pain is also unpredictable. It can come and go without warning. Imagine living with the fear of the unknown, unable to predict what your physical ability and tolerance will be the next moment. Because pain is so elusive and variable, friends, coworkers and even some health care professionals may doubt that the pain is real.

Aftershocks

As a result, many people with pain can lose their ability to provide for their families and to fulfill their roles as parent or spouse. Pain can tear families apart and destroy friendships. It can take away an individual's identity, dignity and sense of self-worth.

Pain is a powerful adversary. Yet many people with pain do manage to get up every morning, go to work, take care of their homes, feed their families, maintain friendships and still have the ability to smile. For the past 35 years, I have been working with people with pain and I cannot tell you how proud I am of each and every one of them. It has not been easy but they have not allowed the pain to control their lives. They are some of the strongest, most dedicated people you will ever meet.

This year, during Pain Awareness Month, let's take a moment to give credit to all those people who have learned to reduce their suffering, maintain their function and improve their quality of life. They deserve our respect for their strength and endurance. They are amazing people!