Millions of Americans need ongoing treatment for chronic pain. Despite recent headlines shouting about the over-prescription of opioids, many studies show that chronic pain is often underdiagnosed and under-treated. September is Chronic Pain Awareness Month, which means that organizations and individuals are working together to raise awareness about the realities of living with chronic pain and to advocate for more effective diagnosis and treatment.
What is chronic pain?
Simply, chronic pain is pain that persists for months or even years. Usually the pain is not severe enough to signal an injury that needs immediate attention, but that doesn't mean that the pain is minor. Chronic pain can emerge at any time due to a variety of causes, from car accidents and sports injuries to old age, cancer, arthritis or endometriosis. Sometimes, the cause of chronic pain is unknown.
How is chronic pain treated?
Because the causes of chronic pain can be complex, it is often difficult to treat. It may take time as well as trial and error to find the right combination of medication and other therapies to bring your pain under control. It's important to find a doctor or pain specialist you trust and to be persistent in order to find the best treatment regimen for you.
Aren't most medicines used for chronic pain dangerously addictive?
A wide variety of medications can be used to treat chronic pain, and not all of them are habit-forming. In addition to traditional pain medications, your doctor may prescribe anti-depressants, steroids or topical creams. Work closely with your doctor to ensure that your pain is not over or under-medicated, and that you are using controlled substances safely and correctly.
What other treatments are available?
Although the results are not always immediate, meditation, therapy, exercise and acupuncture have all been shown to decrease symptoms for some chronic pain patients. Cultivating a positive outlook and interacting with others who share similar challenges can also go a long way in making your pain more bearable. Seek out alternative and supplemental treatments to enhance your recovery and quality of life.
Will insurance cover treatment for chronic pain?
Getting coverage for chronic pain treatment can be a challenge. Certain treatments may not be covered, or may require pre-authorization from a physician. You should thoroughly understand your policy, its limitations and requirements, in order to get the best coverage possible. And remember: you have the right to appeal your insurance company's decision to deny coverage on a claim.
How do I support someone who has chronic pain?
Having a spouse, relative or close friend with chronic pain can be hard on relationships. You can support a person in your life who suffers from chronic pain by expressing sympathy and not taking it personally when they aren't up for an activity or can't follow through with a commitment. Remember, pain is subjective and it can be harmful and unhelpful to question the reality of somebody else's pain. Make sure to take care of yourself and find emotional support outside the relationships so you can be at your best with your loved one.
For many sufferers, chronic pain can be well-managed but never cured. Whether you are directly or indirectly affected by chronic pain, you can help raise awareness of the toll it takes and advocate for research, effective treatment and increased understanding.
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