The Truth About Chronic Pain: Why It’s Hard For Doctors To Treat And How To Cope

October 03, 2019

Nobody dreams of getting injured, but to think your doctor might not be able to help you manage your pain is a nightmare scenario. Though every September we honor Pain Awareness Month, pain doesn’t end just because the month does. But rest easy because we’re going to give you some self-care tips to help relieve pain, even if your doctor isn’t sure how. 

Most people see a doctor, receive a diagnosis, and assume their life will go on like normal – unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Specialists have realized that pain itself can become a disease, as Dr. Sean Mackey, Chief of Stanford Pain Medicine, testified during a legislative pain briefing in August 2019.

The issues surrounding chronic pain have become so overwhelming that the Institute of Medicine issued a report acknowledging pain as a public health crisis, affecting more people than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined.

Over 100 million adults – nearly one third of all Americans – are experiencing the lasting effects of chronic pain, which is now costing the United States upward of $635 billion dollars annually in medical expenses and lost productivity. 

For those affected with chronic pain, being told by friends, family, and physicians that the pain must be “in your head” because you “look fine” is all too common, and an astounding number of physicians also downplay women’s pain specifically by claiming it’s anxiety.

Geography, race, socio-economic status, sexual preference, and other variables play a large role in the lack of diagnosis and treatment.

This can lead to medical PTSD for people suffering with everything from back pain to complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). CRPS has the highest rated pain known globally on the McGill Pain Index yet is unknown to most physicians outside of pain specialists for the same reason most chronic pain patients are dismissed: there is virtually no pain education in medical schools! A study conducted by Johns Hopkins revealed the average amount of pain teaching for a medical student in the U.S. is only nine hours!

The American Medical Association ensures medical schools meet academic requirements, but it’s predominantly lobbyists and special interest groups who determine the curriculum itself. As a result, medical students learn more about pharmacology and prescriptions than they do about what diseases exist, let alone how to diagnose and treat them, or the long-term effects of a disease or medication on the patient. 

And medical institutions don’t recognize a disease, good luck getting reimbursed by insurance; this discrepancy is responsible for exorbitant medical expenses and over 60 percent of all bankruptcies.

The pain crisis begins with lack of education and results in lost wages, loss of enjoyment of life, and is a major contributor to the opioid epidemic.

Thankfully, there are doctors who care and specialists who are making progress on a daily basis. One advancement is the program on pain management developed by Dr. Steven Richeimer, Chief of Pain Medicine at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, which is available to any medical professional. The program teaches the clinical aspect of pain management, as well as addressing mental health and lifestyle, because pain is a whole-body problem requiring a whole-body approach to healing. 

While prevention is the best approach, whether you’re staying ahead of the problem or trying to cope with existing pain, there are plenty of steps you can take to make the journey of recovery easier. Help yourself and others by spreading awareness and taking measures to calm the nervous system (your pain center), which can help reduce and even prevent certain types of pain.

It’s especially important to reduce stress, which will proportionately reduce the size of medical bills and improve the quality of your life.

If you want to be a part of the cure, like the LA Dodgers who did their part to raise pain awareness, share your journey on social media using #CamPAIN, because this cause is a home run, except in the game of life, everybody wins.

Dealing with healthcare in addition to chronic pain itself can be overwhelming, so hopefully the tips below will help provide some much needed relief. Including the basics of eating well, thinking positive, getting enough sleep, and staying hydrated, these tips should help resolve or cope with chronic pain.

Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s self-preservation and it’s doctor ordered, so indulge!

1. Pain Specialist

The facts are numbing.

Chronic pain encompasses a broad spectrum of disorders but pain specialists (often anesthesiologists), are the only doctors specifically trained in diagnosing and treating pain.

After meeting the general requirements of medical school, these doctors are educated in how to effectively manage or numb the pain.

The great ones will also integrate helpful lifestyle tips.

2. Holistic Care

Holistic isn’t just for hippies.

Holistic medicine used to get a bad rap.  More people are turning to this style of healthcare that treats the body as a whole, including physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being.

This approach integrates modalities that are centuries old.

This includes acupuncture, chiropractic medicine, examines diet, and encourages a stress-free lifestyle.

3. Healthy Diet

You are what you eat. Before modern pharmaceuticals, nature provided all the medicine we needed.

Many foods are anti-inflammatory, like ginger and turmeric, with the ability to reduce pain and soothe symptoms without nasty side effects.

Thankfully, there are services that not only cook nutritious food, but it’s delicious and deliverable.

Pain doesn’t have to get in the way of eating well; if you eat healthy, you’re bound to feel healthy.

4. Cannabidiol (CBD)

Get high on life.

Cannabidiol (CBD) gets confused for THC because they both come from cannabis, however, CBD doesn’t have the psychoactive effect that makes you high. It’s a natural relaxant and pain reliever that’s shown to be useful in treating everything from cancer to fibromyalgia. It also happens to be great for anxiety and insomnia, and is safe for use on children and even dogs!

CBD is highly effective when taken as an oil under the tongue because it’s absorbed directly into your blood stream.

Charlotte’s Web is one of the most reputable and physician recommended brands and offers a discount if you use the code “peaceful” at checkout. The only thing that will leave you dazed and confused about CBD is why you didn’t start using it sooner.

5. Accommodating Transportation

Enjoy the ride. 

Transportation is a crucial part of managing pain, whether driving to and from doctor’s appointments or trying to create an enjoyable outing, you want an easy ride.

Comfortable transportation with appropriate accommodations is an absolute necessity if you don’t want to arrive to your destination in more pain than when you left.

Medical bills can pile up pretty fast, so the last thing you want is the cost of your vehicle to derail your momentum; try finding a dealership, like Galpin Ford, that will beat any price or pay you if you find a better deal. Spare yourself the price of pain with a smooth ride, that’ll help you cruise through recovery.

6. Pranayama Breathwork

Waiting to exhale.

Yoga isn’t just about being flexible or taking great Instagram photos, it’s a lifestyle of self-care. Yoga has proven to be beneficial in reducing pain and is for everyone, with classes ranging from therapeutic and restorative, to workshops involving meditation, journaling and reiki.

These practices of clearing the mind of toxic, fear-based thoughts help your body lessen pain.

Yoga can be a great stepping-stone during or after physical therapy and most importantly, breathing (known as Pranayama) is central to the practice. Breathwork mitigates pain by allowing the body to feel safe and access the parasympathetic nervous system, where it can return to the normal state of “rest and digest” versus “fight or flight”. Pranayama has been proven effective as a means to exhale the pain and breathe in relief.

7. Rehabilitation Therapy

Feel the heal.

Physical therapy is often one of the first steps in treating chronic pain. It encompasses modalities ranging from massage and pressure application, to Pilates, stretching, and modified movements.

Pain often limits mobility, flexibility, stability, and range of movement, which is where a good physical therapist, occupational therapist, or sports therapist comes into play.

The brain can be easily rewired, learning to operate through different channels, a concept called neuroplasticity; this is a process a physical therapist can assist with. A great physical therapist can coach you through your recovery and get you back in the game.

9. Exercise

Let’s get physical!

In addition to physical therapy, exercise is a great way to combat pain- it gets endorphins flowing, relieves stress, and it helps to check off personal recovery goals, big or small.

Depending on the type of pain, there’s an exercise that will fit, everything from water aerobics and Pilates, to a brisk walk or run, to treat problems ranging from arthritis to complex regional pain syndrome.

Exercise isn’t just about body weight or muscle gain, it also promotes mobility, endurance, balance, and can even lessen pain when it comes to issues, such as fibromyalgia. If you have fun and wear comfortable attire to work out in, you might find yourself more motivated.

10. Comfortable Clothing

Dress the part.

Whether it’s for a job interview, a date, or your recovery, you want to look the part. When we’re sick, we all have a tendency to put on sweats or a robe and hibernate, but something miraculous happens when you put on an outfit reflective of you- you’ll begin to feel like yourself.

Textures, fit, fabric, ease of getting into and out of clothes play a crucial role in coping with pain, and thankfully, there are options available that feel just as cozy but are far more stylish than your robe.

If you want to help take your mind off the pain, stop dressing yourself like someone who’s in pain, and dress for success, which in this case, means recovery.

11. Skincare

Look better, feel better. Chronic pain can take a toll not only on the way we feel physically, but also on our appearance.

The stress of pain can actually make us look up to two or three decades older because it ages our bodies inside and out.

This can become a constant reminder of the physical battle every time we look in the mirror, much like a scar can remind us of a particular injury. Visiting a great dermatologist can help reverse the impact and help you look your best, which will in turn get you back on path to feeling your best.

12. Makeover

Wash that pain away and slay!

Pain can make you want to tear your hair out, but a little hair care can go a long way to improve your mood, your hygiene, and your style. Washing and styling your hair is not just hair care, but self-care.

Not only does a good shampoo remove environmental toxins and dead skin to improve hygiene, it also adds shine and creates a healthy appearance.

A good haircut will allow you to view yourself in a fresh way and highlight your personality, instead of your stress. A new look is the perfect way to kickstart the recovery process. Don’t let pain cramp your style- release it and let your hair down! 

13. Smile!

Smiling each day keeps the doctor away.

People who smile more not only experience less physical pain, but also less physiological turmoil, according to a study from the University of California, Irvine. Smiling effects the emotions, which in turn impacts the nervous system in a positive way, resulting in decreased pain, by up to 40 percent!

If you don’t love your smile, fortunately, it’s easy to access affordable orthodontics without ever leaving the house.

Thanks to technology, you can have the smile of your dreams and less pain in a matter of months. Attitude is everything when it comes to healing, so try smiling if you’re in pain- fake it until you make it. 

14. Psychotherapy

Talk it out.

Doctors constantly treat pain and mental health as though they are separate issues when they’re inextricably linked. According to Sara Watkin, M.D., an LA-based psychotherapist, “There is a mutually reinforcing relationship between pain and mental health. Chronic pain can lead to depression and anxiety, which in turn can amplify the experience of pain.”

It is important to take care of your emotional well-being in dealing with pain,” she added.

Finding a trusted mental health professional, from a private practice, clinic, or a support group, can be instrumental in motivating you throughout your journey and allowing you to freely express your experience.

Supportive friends and family are wonderful but chronic pain often requires the guidance and input of a trained professional.

15. Meditation 

Repeat after me.

During a time of increased pain and stress, our bodies release hormones that enhance discomfort. Meditation brings us to a quieter state of mind, which can actually reduce pain and inflammation in the body by pulling the body out of fight or flight mode.

Studies have shown that combined use of meditation and yoga are more effective than drugs and surgery for relieving certain types of pain.

The same principle applies to prayer, chanting mantras, and meditation, which all help achieve what studies refer to as “the relaxation response.” Meditation draws the mind away from painful thoughts into a space of peace and calm…meditate on that for a while.

16. Bath time

Soak it in. A hot bath, also known as hydrotherapy, can relax muscles and joints- add

Epsom salt for quick absorption through the skin and feel the pain dissolve along with the salt.

Submergence in warm water, combined with aromatherapy, can calm the nervous system in addition to boosting the immune system, and making you smell delightful. 

17. Sleep

Rest is best. 

Sleep is an indicator of our health. Less sleep is equated with higher stress, illness and pain, and those with high levels of pain, inversely get less sleep. Pain is physically, mentally and emotionally draining, and is therefore extremely exhausting.

Those who suffer from chronic pain often require more sleep, which is exactly what the body needs to repair itself.

During sleep is when the body “reboots” and most healing takes place, so sleep is not to be taken lightly. Being abruptly awakened can be jarring to the nervous system and heighten pain; alarms that mimic sunrise are gentler for those with chronic pain.

Sleep hygiene (an evening routine) should be taken seriously as well. A regular sleep schedule, shutting off lights and devices, turning on nature sounds, white noise, or guided meditations can be helpful to fall asleep. Fast asleep means fast to heal.

18. IV Therapy

Going straight to the source.

Because of all the processed food and toxins we ingest in the modern world, our gut health isn’t in an ideal state for absorbing the nutrients we require to heal. We need to go straight to the source and get those nutrients directly into our bloodstream as fast as possible, and IV therapy is the answer.

A simple IV therapy will give your body everything it needs to get to work on repairing damaged nerves while hydrating you at the same time.

If you’re not feeling well enough to leave the house, it’s not a problem because there are services that come to you. A thirty-minute infusion can have you feeling as energized as if you’d just enjoyed a thirty-minute nap.

19. Gut Health

Don’t ignore your gut reaction.

Researchers have found that the gut plays an integral role in overall health, comparing its integral role to the brain, therefore, when you experience gut health, you experience whole body health. Giving the gut the “food” it needs to operate at the highest level requires pre-biotics and probiotics.

Taken regularly, these good strains of bacteria can hugely impact the immune system and signals from the brain to the nerves.

Additionally, when we eat fatty, fried, carb heavy, sugary, and dairy dense foods, they cause inflammation, resulting in pain. If your gut reaction tells you something’s not healthy, steer clear because chronic pain is gut-wrenching and affects your whole body. 

20. Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

Know your ABCs and take your vitamins.

Vitamins ranging from A to zinc play a role in our health, but vitamin C has been linked to huge benefits when it comes to pain relief.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant, helps maintain collagen and connective tissue, protects cells, and repairs wounds, amongst other things- it seems to be a cure-all.

Taking daily vitamins with the right dosage of ascorbic acid can mean the difference between debilitating pain and saying, “C you later,” to all those doctors visits. 

21. Go Outside

Let the sunshine in.

Being in nature not only helps boost the immune system, but studies have shown sunlight can help mitigate pain, reducing the need for medication.

Being outside has been shown to lower stress hormones, center the mind, and normalize sleep patterns.

The fresh air improves blood pressure, oxygen creates a sense of well-being and grounding (rooting down into the earth) boosts the serotonin levels. Throw on a little SPF and head outside for some free pain relief. 

22. Vacation

Time to power trip.

Chronic pain means more days spent at home, in bed or on the sofa, which also means more likelihood of depression, boredom, and being stuck in a rut. Rather than seeing what all your friends are doing online, get out and partake in life- have your own adventure. The change of scenery will do you good.

A well-planned vacation can give you more purpose and lift your spirits, and will eliminate the day-to-day burden of chores at home.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to rest and recuperate, don’t let chronic pain stop you from enjoying life. If anything, you deserve a break for battling pain on a regular basis. Pack your suitcase but leave “the baggage” at home.

23. Loved Ones

Love is all you need.

No matter what you’re up against in life, the support and comfort of loved ones makes enduring any unpleasant situation more bearable, in fact, even the photo, essentially the thought, of a loved one, can reduce pain, according to a study performed by UCLA.

The idea of a support system promotes relief because it releases oxytocin, what we know as “the love hormone.”

A simple reminder of a loved one, and encouragement to be brave, have faith, and show strength, make a healthy person feel good and work wonders on someone in pain.

24. Pets

Spare yourself the pain and save a dog.

Not only are dogs man’s best friends, but they are also natural healers. One study, done through the University of Pittsburgh showed conclusive evidence that dogs provided a “Significant reduction in pain and emotional distress for chronic pain patients.” 

Not only are they sweet, happy and loving, but dogs can provide a sense of purpose and a distraction from the pain.

Rescue a dog and it will save you right back. There are countless shelter dogs just waiting to be your new best friend and provide you with all the entertainment and love you could ever hope for.

A dog’s greatest trick is reducing your pain, and yet you’ll be the one who receives the treat. 

25. Hobbies

Go where the fun is.

Whatever you focus your attention on grows, so if you place all your attention on discomfort and disease, that’s what you’ll feel.

In contrast, if you place your attention on something positive and enjoyable, not only will your mind be distracted from pain, it will also give you a creative outlet for self-expression.

A hobby will keep your mind engaged by being productive, as well as a reason to feel proud of your accomplishment.

Furthermore, practice makes perfect and if you’re good at your hobby you can make it profitable, to support yourself in spite of the pain.

26. Home Decor

Home is where the healing is.

Home décor should not only be a reflection of our personality but it should be a sanctuary. It is now recognized that environmental factors can influence pain, so why not make home feel inviting, appealing to the senses and a reflection of who we are at the core, in addition to a place of ease.

There are so many design options available now that style doesn’t have to be sacrificed for comfort and accessibility.

Make your home visually appealing, a place that makes you feel happy, and you’ll be too busy enjoying your surroundings to notice you’re in pain.

27. Aromatherapy

There’s a scents of healing in the air.

The French first coined aromatherapy in the early 1900s, though it dates back to ancient Chinese and Egyptian civilizations. Breathing in soothing scents, especially from concentrated oils, can actually reach your limbic system. 

Breathing in soothing scents, especially from concentrated oils, can actually reach your limbic system.

Studies have shown scents can reduce inflammation, improve anxiety, and as a general rule, create an inviting and calming space, which is ideal for healing.

Companies like Illume are trying to promote relaxing surroundings and offer a discount using “peaceful19” to those who are in need of a nurturing environment. Their latest line is actually named for a yogic and healing lifestyle. The sweet smell of relief is in your future.

28. Flowers

Bloom where you’re planted.

If chronic pain prevents you from leaving the house, bring nature indoors. Flowers have the ability to reduce stress and are believed to promote affection, prosperity and calm, which can subdue pain. They pleasantly appeal to our senses- smell, sight and touch- and connect us with nature.

Not to mention, receiving flowers is considered a sign of affection.

If someone sends you flowers, that’s reason enough to feel better; you can always buy yourself a beautiful bouquet to enhance your surroundings and add some color to your day. Wherever life has led you, plant roots, adapt, and grow, just like a flower.

29. Positive Influences

Take what you like and leave the rest.

While it’s not yet fully understood why, joy has a positive effect on the immune system. It may be that happiness leads to healthier behaviors or impacts the glands that regulate hormones, digestion and the immune system.

But nothing makes us happier than the idea that simply partaking engaging in positive conversation could boost our immune system and reduce pain.

Choose what and whom you listen to wisely, because they can alter your experience.

30. Joyful Content

Feel positively better.

Studies have shown that what we absorb- what we read, what we listen to, the shows we watch, the energy of others, and the experiences we have- can have a negative or positive affect on our mental and physical health.

By focusing on positive content, our bodies respond positively.

If you’re in pain, try to watch shows and read books that promote joy and will make you laugh or smile. Reflect on happy memories and watch others as they experience joy, because emotions are contagious.

31. Music

Good music can have you believing.

Music is a way of connecting to our own feelings and connecting to others. It’s a way of expressing what we feel, and when we hear a song with lyrics that fit our experience, it’s comforting to know we’re not alone.

Music wakes up the soul.

According to the American Music Therapy Association, “Music therapy programs can achieve goals such as managing stress, enhancing memory, and alleviating pain.”

Turn on your jam, turn up the volume, and feel the beat run through you instead of pain!

Have you used any of these methods to treat your chronic pain?