Imagine slamming your fingers in a car door. After you scream and remove your smashed hand, you will have excruciating pain for several hours. Eventually it will turn into a dull ache. Within a week or two the pain should be gone and your only reminder might be a few purple fingernails.
Now imagine instead that the pain never goes away. Every morning you awake in agony and every evening you just pray you will be able to get some sleep despite the discomfort.
Millions of Americans face that kind of chronic pain. Some suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, others from a mysterious condition of soft tissue called fibromyalgia. Damaged disks in the back are a common cause of torment.
Such pain is often poorly treated. Specialists acknowledge that too many people suffer for fear of becoming addicted to powerful pain medicines. They also bemoan the lack of comprehensive pain management by adequately trained health professionals.
One reader shared his story:
“Several years ago I injured my lower back. Later arthritis developed at that location.
“For years I bounced around from doctor to doctor, trying traction, steroid shots, physical therapy, and every anti-inflammatory medication they could prescribe. I could not get any relief. Anti-inflammatory drugs kill my stomach and I just can’t take them.
“Finally I found a doctor who listened to me. She said that arthritis medicines do the same thing to a lot of patients. She reviewed my charts, saw what I had been through and tried something different. Vicodin gave me instant relief and I was pain free for over two years. One capsule in the morning: pain free all day; one capsule in the evening: pain free all night.
“My doctor moved her practice out of state and I am again in pain, unable to perform at work and unable to sleep. I’ve visited two doctors and both refuse to prescribe Vicodin. Why can’t they see that anti-inflammatory drugs don’t work for me? I am afraid for my family. We are one paycheck away from welfare and I can barely function. My back is killing me. I cannot continue this way for the rest of my life.”
We heard a different story from Susan. She was stricken with rheumatoid arthritis at 20, and for years struggled with unrelenting pain daily. Every joint in her body ached, from her head to her feet:
“At the age of 37 I decided suicide was the only answer for me. I felt like it was me versus the world and pain–and pain had won.”
Susan finally found a doctor experienced in treating pain who listened to her. Together they experimented with medications and doses until they found a regimen that worked for her:
“I got my life back. Now I am energetic and productive again.”
Proper treatment of chronic pain requires a team of pain specialists able to orchestrate medications, physical therapy and psychological support. People should not forego pain relief for fear of addiction. Studies show that carefully controlled use of narcotics, when used for chronic pain, can be safe and effective. Pain patients should not have to suffer in silence. Instead they deserve compassionate pain management.
We have interviewed a number of experts about pain management over the years. Here are links to some of those shows: