- Written by Andi Waisman, M.S.Ed., Healthy Living Program Manager
- Published: 21 February 2020
LifePath’s Healthy Living Department salutes the members of our community of any age who live in pain while navigating the challenges of day to day life. You are not alone! Here at LifePath we acknowledge the stigma of living with persistent pain and the difficulties that pain brings to your life, your work, and your relationships. We offer free workshops to encourage each other to share these challenges and grow into better health self-managers, confident in our ability to play the starring role in managing our conditions.
Managing pain puts a strain on our livelihood and support systems, and most of all on our relationship with ourselves as we contend with changing abilities and energy levels.
Persistent pain is personal and subjective, for some the pain is constant; for others it is intermittent and can be mild, moderate, or severe in intensity. You are the one who knows how it feels to walk in your bones. Research shows that living with persistent pain can wreak havoc on a person’s life, causing physical and emotional challenges. Managing pain puts a strain on our livelihood and support systems, and most of all on our relationship with ourselves as we contend with changing abilities and energy levels. It is important to understand the emotional component of chronic pain, which can cause us to be scared, angry, sad, or depressed, and often humbled in the face of a quickly changing lifestyle.
“I have spinal stenosis. I am experiencing pain at a much higher level this past year in my back and legs. First I went through denial that this was happening. I was too young for this pain. I am 70. I experienced anger at the medical system who sees you as a person with many parts that must be examined a part at a time: feet, knees, back, legs. As the pain increased I realized this might be permanent and I became very frightened, and sad, and then depressed. My life as I knew it was changing rapidly. Three years ago I was on a 19 month trip through Europe, volunteering on farms. Now I can't stand for a minute.” (Wendy Iseman, Healthy Living Workshop Leader)
Pain is a function of the central nervous system. A signal from an injury travels to the brain, and the rest of the nervous system reacts (e.g. pulls away, tenses, screams, crys, goes into “fire alarm mode”). Acute pain lasts a few minutes to a month or two. Chronic pain is pain that lasts more than 3-6 months and exists even after our doctors have treated or ruled out any specific disease causing the pain. Current research shows that chronic pain involves the relationship between the sensitivities of our central nervous system with the part of our body that is challenged and the way our brain interprets information. Sometimes the brain continues to produce pain signals even though tissues have healed. And sometimes there is nothing our medical professionals can do to resolve the issue causing the pain. When attempts to fix the underlying injury fail to reduce pain, or pain no longer has a cause in tissue or bone, these central nervous system adaptations cause chronic pain to be a disease in its own right.
Persistent pain involves many factors, and every single patient with pain is different. The cause is often times invisible and in a world where medical providers are trained to seek the scientific and measurable, their biases can stigmatize patients. Patients sometimes get the message from providers that they are “complainers, malingerers and drug-seekers.” People with chronic pain are accustomed to feeling like the healthcare system sees them as difficult patients, and many providers acknowledge that their patient's perception is accurate. Feeling stigmatized by a medical provider in the search for relief is downright disheartening.
“I hate being asked to rate my pain on a scale of 1-10. They want the quantifier that will communicate the range of discomfort I feel, and I want the magic number that gets the help I can afford as fast as I need it.” Blog Post, “Dialing Back the Pain Scale: towards a more effective conversation for pain management.” (Dina Stander, Healthy Living Workshop Leader)
The stigma associated with having an invisible condition has been made worse by the ongoing opioid epidemic. The rise in over-prescription and misuse of opioids, associated overdose deaths, and subsequent drug enforcement pressure on physicians has placed a heavy burden on those seeking relief and the many people who take opioids responsibly and show no signs of addiction or misuse. For the 50 million Americans who struggle with chronic pain, one of the first blows to their confidence is the need to convince a medical provider that the pain condition is real and not an attempt to obtain pain medications. It may be even more difficult to convince a doctor of ongoing pain if you are a member of a minority group, have challenges with substance use, or are impoverished, homeless, very young, or HIV positive.
The Franklin County/Quabbin community is rich with professionals dedicated to improving the health status and quality of life for those who live in persistent pain and work to make their services affordable, from medical providers, physical therapists, support group leaders, reiki masters, herbalists, to those who sell medical cannabis.