The goal of pain management has always been threefold: to increase function, reduce suffering, and improve quality of life. Yet opioids and their potential for addiction have come to dominate the discussion of pain management.
This focus on opioids has increased the stigma associated with chronic pain. People with pain are often seen as drug seekers or malingerers. The truth is, most people living with pain would gladly discontinue all medications, if only the pain would stop.
Eliminating the stigma
Since the mid-90s the first and, often only, line of treatment for most folks has been pain medication. We have lost sight of the fact that there is more to living a full life in spite of pain than taking medications.
Multiple governmental and academic reports cite the importance of treating pain with a multidisciplinary strategy (including medication and a combination of other treatments, such as physical therapy, biofeedback, behavioral therapy, and more) in a patient-centered environment.
This means the person with pain must take an active role in the recovery process, helping to set treatment goals and evaluate therapies, and applying self-management skills. It’s not enough to tell people with pain to get involved and to “learn to live with it.” We must teach them how.
Making a difference
Since 1980, The American Chronic Pain Association has offered education in pain management and support to people with pain. We encourage people with pain to move out of the role of a “patient” passively waiting for treatment, and to reclaim their autonomy as a person, acting together with their healthcare team to achieve their own goals.
Below is a list of tips to begin one’s journey from patient back to functional person. Know that, while it takes work, determination and support, it is well worth the effort:
1. Accept the pain
Learn all you can about your physical condition. Understand there may be no current cure and accept that you will need to deal with the fact of pain in your life.
2. Get involved
Take an active role in your own recovery. Follow your doctor’s advice and ask what you can do to move from a passive role into one of partnership in your healthcare.
3. Set priorities
Look beyond your pain to the things that are important in your life. List the things that you would like to do. Setting priorities can help you find a starting point to lead you back into a more active life.
4. Set realistic goals
We all walk before we run. Set goals that are within your power to accomplish or break a larger goal down into manageable steps. Take time to enjoy your successes.
5. Know your basic rights
We all have basic rights. Among these are the rights to be treated with respect, to say “no” without guilt, to do less than humanly possible, to make mistakes, and to not need to justify your decision with words of pain.
6. Recognize your emotions
Our bodies and minds are one. Emotions directly affect physical wellbeing. By acknowledging and dealing with your feelings, you can reduce stress and decrease the pain you feel.
7. Learn to relax
Pain increases in times of stress. Relaxation exercises are one way of reclaiming control of your body. Deep breathing, visualization, and other relaxation techniques can help you to better manage the pain with which you live.
Most people with chronic pain fear exercise. However, unused muscles feel more pain than toned, flexible ones. With your doctor, identify a modest exercise program that you can do safely. As you build strength, your pain will decrease. You will feel better about yourself.
9. See the whole picture
As you learn to set priorities, reach goals, assert your basic rights, deal with your feelings, relax, and regain control of your body, you will see that pain does not need to be the center of your life. You can choose to focus on your abilities, not your disabilities. You will grow stronger.
10. Reach out
It is estimated that 1 out of every 3 people suffers with some form of chronic pain. Once you have begun to find ways to manage your chronic pain problem, reach out and share what you know. Living with chronic pain is an ongoing learning experience. We all support and learn from each other.