How can I manage chronic pain?

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Answered by: Bonnie, An Expert in the Living With Chronic Pain Category
Almost 50 million American adults report suffering from chronic pain and severe pain. In fact, pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined! That's a whole lot of lost wages due to sick days, not to mention the productivity losses facing the employers. People who suffer from chronic pain are also more than four times as likely to experience depression than those who report having no significant chronic pain. Meaning, for those who suffer, not only is there a loss in income; but, simultaneously, personal health care costs continue to mount, leading many Americans to utilize disability benefits earlier in life than expected.

There are several prescription medications that may offer relief for those enduring chronic pain; however, many are highly addictive. Also, it takes some time to find which medicine works best for each individual —most often, through trial and error. The Center for Disease Control estimates that roughly 44 people in America die each day from prescription opioid overdoses. This has also caused many doctors to be extremely selective when prescribing any narcotic pain reliever. Many people opt instead to manage chronic pain via natural/holistic approaches such as herbal medicines, chiropractors, orthopedists, and doctors who specialize in pain management. You may have heard that some states have legalized medicinal marijuana; in those states, a patient can go to a dispensary and be guided by a professional who knows how each type of plant works.

As someone who suffers from chronic pain myself, I can tell you that it isn’t easy. Pain is a very subjective condition, and the treatment that works wonders for one person may not work at all for another, even if they suffer from the same ailment. What works for me is a combination of treatments/medicines/supplements, along with a very strong network of support. Exercise is also key. I know, that may not be something a person who feels debilitated by chronic pain wants to hear. But it’s very true. You don’t have to become an athlete, or uphold your entire body with only one finger on the yoga mat! Gentle stretching, light water aerobics, beginner’s yoga poses, bicycle riding, even a 20-30 minute stroll through your neighborhood or park will help immensely. Just keep doing it! (Note: If you’re interested in yoga, look for beginner’s classes first. Also, search for donation-only classes-- many instructors offer a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly session for low-income folks.)

While the annual cost of chronic pain in America is estimated to be nearly 100 billion dollars (via lost income, loss of productivity, and usage of healthcare services), doctors are still scratching their heads over what exactly causes chronic pain and how it can most effectively be treated. There are numerous studies being conducted, along with numerous controversies over possible treatments (such as kappa-opioids), but we do know that the pain epidemic is indeed being researched. In the meantime, I encourage those who suffer to talk to their doctors; experiment with herbals (safely, under your doctor’s supervision), try new exercises, join a group, reach out to your friends and let them know you need their support, and, most importantly, keep trying. It is indeed possible to live a satisfying life while working to manage chronic pain.

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