“Pain: The #1 reason people seek medical help”

Pain, whether short-term or long-term, is debilitating and in the United States, 20 million people live with the type of pain that frequently limits their life or work activities.

No wonder pain is the number one reason Americans seek medical help, according to the U.S. Pain Foundation. That means it affects 7% of Americans.

Pain is an experience and a topic that warrants more attention and acceptance. 

The Stanford 1 to 10 pain scale is known to most of us, since we are asked to use that to tell medical professionals how we would rate our pain level. But, without a clear understanding of what the numbers 3, 7 or 10 are defined as – blurting out our number can be confusing.

Pain is termed “chronic” when it lasts for several months or longer. “The pain can be experienced every day or just once in a while.”*

Pause for a moment and gauge where your pain level is at on the Stanford pain scale. 

“Chronic pain can have a tremendous impact on our mental wellbeing.  Typically when we’re experiencing pain, the natural response is to protect ourselves.”*

Makes complete sense, right? We have to act as our own gate guards. If we don’t, who will?

Remember, you are the person that feels the pain, understands your limitations, is fully aware of any health conditions – so why would you entrust anyone else to protect you? You know the level of protection you need.

Essentially, when you feel pain, it is signaling the mind that there’s something going on; that something is wrong. Not every pain is going to be visually noticeable to you, or others, and more often than not – it’s invisible. 

“[Pain is] such an individual experience that it doesn’t matter what your type of pain is in that how you experience it and how it impacts you is true for you.”*

The key take-away from that? No one has the right to diminish your pain. 

“Pain is an individual experience so nobody can tell you that your pain shouldn’t be as bad as it is, or you shouldn’t be feeling the way you’re feeling.”* 

“Pain is totally subjective.”* Imprint this in your mind. Accept your pain and turn and validate your loved one’s pain.   

Chronic pain can be a slippery slope. Chronic pain sometimes forces our hand at having or enjoying a social life, can increase stress within families, and has the likelihood of bringing in anxiety and depression.  When coupled with raising kids, taking care of elderly parents, trying to work, and get quality sleep – it can resemble more of a circus act. 

If you’re feeling a bit depleted, lonely, or just need to hash some things out – I highly recommend seeking a third party (counselor/advisor). In my experience with chronic migraine, I’ve found that to be so instrumental in helping me re-route to gain clarity, understanding and a higher satisfaction of wellbeing. 

And as we know, chronic pain isn’t planned. Oh how convenient that would be, right? Actually, I wish I could just scratch that completely off the calendar.

Managing chronic pain means being prepared for it. It’s a good idea to have a game plan for when it strikes. Whether it’s an ice pack, a book, an eye covering, or a heating pad, you know what makes it better.  

A not-so-great thing I’ve learned is that “pain and anxiety and depression share similar neurobiological pathways.”*

“According to a World Health Organization study in primary care settings across the world, approximately one-fifth of all primary care patients suffer from persistent, debilitating pain, and they are four times more likely to have co-morbid anxiety or depression than pain-free primary care patients.”**

Recall how I fired my previous doctor? It’s because 1) I was denied a neurologist and 2) Because my previous doctor didn’t believe the level of pain I was experiencing. When you have placed your trust in a medical provider, you should feel accepted and that they are trying to help make your life easier. 

In my journey with The Honest Migraine thus far, time and again experts and patients alike have shared one frustrating commonality:  that they have been gas-lighted by a doctor. Eluding that the pain/condition is “in your head” is infuriating.   

Dr. Laura Payne of McLean Hospital has reiterated, “There isn’t such a thing as pain that’s in your head and real pain.”* 

I now have doctors that I trust, that I can be fully transparent with on things I’m struggling with and how I’m feeling. My doctors are non-judgmental. 

Genetics play a much bigger role in our lives than I ever realized.  Simply stated, “Our brains determine our experience with pain.”* Multiple things come together for your brain to determine the pain experience. 

Payne stated that our individual neurobiology, any previous experiences with pain, how much attention we give the pain all mold together in our brain to determine the experience we are having. 

There are several routes to go down depending on your specific health condition and the type of pain medicine assistance needed. I have family members that go to pain management clinics for injections for orthopedic problems. I have received nerve blocks administered by my neurologist for migraine. I have friends who have had acupuncture.  I advise everyone to research, research, and research. A solution is out there.  

A few helpful resources include: American Chronic Pain Association and U.S. Pain Foundation.

And don’t forget to ask your doctor.  Let’s open the door to fluid, healthy communications with our doctors. Verify they are on your team. I’m on your team.   

*Source: Relieving pain’s impact on mental well-being, Laura Payne, PhD, McLean Hospital webinar, May 5, 2021

**Source: Han, C., & Pae, C. U. (2015). Pain and depression: a neurobiological perspective of their relationship. Psychiatry investigation, 12(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.4306/pi.2015.12.1.1

Coming next: Back to my roots: Why health matters to me