CHRONIC PAIN: The Hidden Disease
By Sherry Simon-Heldt
The proverb “seeing is believing” does not really apply to people dealing with pain related to migraine, arthritis, back discomfort, TMJ, RSD, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, neuropathy, cancer. With pain being out of sight and ongoing (sometimes for years), sufferers may have difficulty being believed and validated; their pain can be minimized by family members, friends, even by health care providers.
The word pain derives from the Latin poena and the Greek poine, which means “penalty or punishment.” The work of Galen of Pergamon, a prominent ancient Greek physician from the first century, suggested that illness and disease were caused by an imbalance of the four humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile). This theory gave rise to terms such as phlegmatic, sanguine, choleric, and melancholic, which became associated with one’s attitude or mood. Myths are powerful and insidious. The notion that one has long-term pain because of who the person is defies logic, science, even common sense. However, pain sufferers, themselves, can use self-blaming language, such as “This is my fault;” “I must have done something wrong to deserve this.” Some of the common myths and misconceptions regarding chronic pain:
Myth: “Pain is in your head.”
Truth: Pain is real. Healthcare professionals are beginning to address pain as the fifth vital sign. Severity of pain is judged by the patient.
Myth: “Pain is your fault.”
Truth: Pain usually results from injury to tissue and alterations in nerve pathways. Scientists are still attempting to understand the complexity of chronic pain.
Myth: “Pain means you’re weak.”
Truth: Pain is indiscriminate. It affects people of all ages, gender, race, socioeconomic standing, or prior health status.
Myth: “Pain won’t get better, and you’ll never be able to live a full life.”
Truth: People do not need to suffer endlessly in silence. Today, many options exist for treatment that can decrease pain and allow people to resume their lives.
What is known from research and clinical practice is that connection with and support from those who are understanding of and empathetic to a patient’s disease is of critical importance to physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual health and wellness. Chronic pain patients and their loved ones can benefit greatly by being involved in support groups that address issues such as:
- Understanding chronic pain and dispelling myths
- Learning the psychosocial stages of chronic pain
- Developing a treatment plan, and potential co-occurring conditions
- Creating coping skills and strategies
- Dealing with family and social interactions
Throughout the U.S. exist support groups sponsored by Pain Connection (www.painconnection.org), a program of the U.S. Pain Foundation.
* Sherry Simon-Heldt, a licensed psychotherapist is developing programs for chronic pain patients in Tucson, Arizona, where she lives.