It is increasingly common to see ribbons and wristbands of every color symbolizing various health initiatives. September serves as the cancer awareness month for childhood cancer, ovarian and prostate cancers, leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. The month is also dedicated to Sickle Cell Awareness Month, Traumatic Brain Injury Month, and a host of other conditions. However, there is a common thread in these we rarely discuss — pain.

Sally Nix and her service dog, Jon Snow

In 2001, a coalition of individuals from the chronic pain community established September as Pain Awareness Month. It seems pretty fitting the U.S. Pain Foundation’s pain warrior bracelet has swirled and integrated colors to represent the unifying of pain patients within all groups.

Chronic pain differs significantly from acute pain in terms of duration and impact. Most people experience nothing more than pain from something acute or temporary and treatable. Chronic pain is an entirely different animal. It is a pain lasting over three to six months or beyond a typical healing time frame. For many patients, the pain lasts a lifetime.

The Impact of Chronic Pain

Pain affects more Americans than cancer, heart disease, and diabetes combined. In fact, 51.6 million Americans are affected by complex and chronic pain daily. (This does not include children living with pain.) Of those, 17.1 million live with disabling chronic pain that substantially restricts their ability to work or participate in daily activities. Even though more than 20 percent of U.S. patients deal with chronic pain, it is widely misunderstood, underfunded, and often left untreated.

Chronic pain is a complex and challenging condition that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. The subjective nature of pain and its variability among individuals make it difficult to diagnose and treat effectively. Many in the chronic pain community face a lack of understanding, stigma, and marginalization, highlighting the need for improved awareness and support.

People with chronic pain may struggle to work or even become disabled, causing them to lose income. To improve patient outcomes and make treatment more accessible, economic factors should be considered in managing chronic pain. Cost-effective interventions can help people manage their pain while minimizing financial strain. Insurance companies need to expand coverage options for effective treatments and consider the unique needs of each patient to enhance overall outcomes and quality of life for those dealing with chronic pain.

Managing Chronic Pain

If you’re dealing with chronic pain, having a pain expert on your care team who values a multi-disciplinary approach to pain management is essential. In the United States, balanced access to pain management is more critical than ever, especially given the opioid crisis. While reform is necessary, it’s important to recognize that there is still a place for narcotics when prescribed safely and judiciously. Unfortunately, people with chronic conditions ranging from cancer to rheumatoid arthritis are often unfairly denied access to pain relief and labeled as addiction risks. We need public policy that addresses addiction and drug overdoses while also meeting the needs of those suffering from chronic pain.

The U.S. Pain Foundation’s public position statement states, “U.S. Pain Foundation is committed to protecting access to vital pain management options and preventing pain medication abuse. We believe it is possible to achieve both goals through balanced reform.”

It is recommended to consult with a medical professional for personalized advice on managing chronic pain. Common strategies for managing pain include medication, physical therapy, exercise, relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and lifestyle adjustments. It is important to find what works best for you and maintain open communication with your healthcare provider. Additionally, there are several complementary therapies that can help alleviate suffering and improve quality of life, such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, massage, biofeedback, CBD, and medical marijuana (in states where it is legal). These therapies can provide significant relief without the need for opioids. It is essential to stay informed about new developments in this field to explore all available options for pain management.

Addressing Mental Health and Chronic Pain

Mental health can significantly impact chronic pain and vice versa. Conditions like depression and anxiety can amplify pain perception, making it feel more intense. On the other hand, chronic pain can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress. Addressing both aspects through a comprehensive approach that includes medical, psychological, and lifestyle interventions is essential. Studies have shown that individuals dealing with chronic pain face a higher risk of suicide compared to those without chronic pain. The constant physical discomfort and emotional toll can contribute to feelings of hopelessness and distress. If you or someone you know is struggling with chronic pain and its effects, seeking professional help is vital.

If you are in crisis or are considering harming yourself, please take one of the following steps immediately:

♦ Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.
♦ Call the suicide prevention crisis hotline 24/7: Call or text 988.
♦ Are you a Veteran in crisis or concerned about one? Available 24/7: Dial 988, then Press 1, or text 838255.

Explain how you’re feeling. Remember, part of being strong is acknowledging when to ask for help.

You are not alone!

The mission of the U.S. Pain Foundation is to empower, educate, connect, and advocate for people living with chronic conditions that cause pain. As a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to serving those who live with pain conditions and their care providers, U.S. Pain Foundation helps individuals find resources and inspiration.

Sally Nix lives in Statesville.