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An essay by 2012 PRA Program Graduate

Chronic Pain

My life changed 2 ½ years ago when I was injured at work, which left me in a state of chronic pain that will remain for the rest of my life. Three months after my injury, I began to realize and understand that I was going to be facing some serious life changes. It was very interesting to me how pain can change someone’s life in an instant. Starting with the relationships with family and friends, how it affects activities of your daily life, to dealing with the feelings of depression, anger and helplessness that result from pain.  From issues of too much medication and people not understanding or believing that you are truly in that kind of pain.   Some people even think that it is all in your head and you are making it up. Chronic pain by definition is pain that lasts more than 3 months after your injury. Basically, it’s the pain that remains after your injury is determined medically healed.

The United States makes up 4.6% of the world’s population, but consumes 80% of the world’s opioids and 99% of the world’s Hydrocodone (Vicodin). The problem with these drugs is there are over 600,000 doctors that are allowed by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to prescribe Vicodin. Primary Care Doctors, Internists and Dentists top the chart for prescribing Vicodin because it is not tightly regulated like other painkillers. This creates a problem of easy accessibility to medications for chronic pain sufferers.  The problem I have with these medications is that over time a person begins to live life by what the drugs will allow them to do, not what you should be doing to improve your body and mind to function with the pain. 

Acceptance of your chronic pain is a good place to start and can be very enlightening.   I find that some people hold on to the hope that their injury can be fixed even when their doctors tell them there is nothing that can be done to change it.   Then there are people like myself that accept their prognosis and how they will have to make changes in their lives to be able to function.   For example, learning new ways to achieve success doing daily tasks.

When I accepted my condition, it was much easier to find and understand alternative ways to deal with and maintain my pain.   I have noticed many fellow pain suffers tend to hold on to their painkillers, and rely on them too much.

Options that I use for my pain without daily medications are stress management, pacing, relaxation, stretching and body mechanics.  

Starting with stress management, I try to reduce my fear and anxiety over what might happen, catastrophizing a situation and imagining the worst outcome, reacting to it with alarm and fear.   By over reacting to everything that gets in the way while trying to get better, you limit yourself. 

Pacing and body mechanics has been the most important alternatives for me.   The ability to start a task and not overdoing it to a point where you can’t do anything else for a long period of time, and using good body mechanics.   An example is cleaning the bathroom.   Sometimes you can only clean the toilet or sink and mirror, take a break and then go clean the shower.   People tend to want to do it all as fast as they can and hurt themselves by not pacing, or using good body mechanics.  Stretching everyday also helps.   People may experience some pain from this and must not overdue it.   The looser your muscles are the better you can manage your pain while having an active life.

I’ve shared some staggering statistics about chronic pain in America including the number of people suffering, overuse of medications, annual costs for medications and lack of information and resources. This is inexcusable in my opinion.   Our system is flawed and prevention and education of chronic pain need to be a priority in society!