Pervasiveness Of Pain
The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage”.
Webster’s dictionary defines pain as “localized physical suffering associated with bodily disorder (as a disease or an injury); also a basic bodily sensation induced by a noxious stimulus , received by naked nerve endings, characterized by physical discomfort (as pricking, throbbing, or aching), and typically leading to evasive action.”
As one can see, coming up with a sensible definition of pain may be difficult but for the individual patient suffering from chronic pain the definition becomes quite easy.
Pain is the single most common reason for a visit to the doctor. The American Pain Foundation estimates that there are 50 million people suffering from chronic pain each year. The rates of chronic pain in the elderly approach 50%.
When considering both the direct costs of chronic pain (doctor visits, medications, treatments, hospitalizations, etc) along with the indirect costs, such as lost productivity, the total cost of chronic pain to society has been estimated to be around $100 billion per year. When one further considers that each chronic pain patient is likely close with and sometimes dependant on at least two other people then the total number of people affected by chronic pain reaches 150 million; a figure that is approximately half of the total U.S. population.
Acute pain is often an important warning sign that something is wrong. It is almost always a signal of some underlying pathology that may need medical attention. On the other hand, chronic pain (that lasting greater than six months) does not always have an underlying or easily discernible pathology. It can persist long after the offending insult has been removed or cured.
Often, the dysfunction in chronic pain lies in the nervous system itself and cannot be detected on conventional imaging such as MRI. This can lead to a great deal of frustration on the part of the patient, as well as loved ones and healthcare providers.
Most often, successful treatment of chronic pain will employ multiple modalities including pharmacological, physiological, psychological, and interventional in order to address the multiple causes and effects of daily persistent pain. A balanced approach without over-reliance on any one tool leads to the best outcomes.
The time to talk with your physician about your pain is when that pain consistently interferes with your ability to perform simple daily tasks such as bathing or cooking.
Treatments exist which can lessen your suffering, allowing you to get back to the tasks at hand in daily life.