Don’t Put All Chronic Pain Patients in the Same Basket

By Carol Levy, PNN Columnist

I recently read an article in KevinMD. The author, a family doctor in Maine, wrote about the need for more behavioral (mental) health treatment in primary care settings:

“We are doing that with chronic pain. Any patient who needs ongoing pain medication is required to attend four individual sessions to learn about what pain is, how the brain is the center of the pain experience, and how our pain experience can be altered by internal and external factors. We don’t use ‘pain scales’ for the simple reason that pain is never objective.”

As I read that, my blood boiled. I am sick of this concept that those of us with chronic pain need to be educated on how pain works, how our brains work, and how our pain can be mediated or controlled by mental health therapy.

Does a patient with cancer or arthritis need to be “educated” on how their brain works? Are they taught that the brain is the center of their health problems? Are they instructed with mumbo-jumbo about how their conditions can be “altered by internal and external factors”?

Or are they told what treatments are available for cancer or arthritis and how to deal with the symptoms?

It is not that I think education is unnecessary. The more we know and can understand about how our pain works, the better. It is important for patients with all diseases, not just ours, to know what we can and cannot do, what will make it worse, and what might help make it better.

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But, once again, chronic pain patients are treated differently.  We can assist in our treatment only if we learn to change how we think and react to the symptoms.  

After I took a few deep breaths I calmed down. And gave it some further thought.

It occurs to me that the medical community often puts chronic pain conditions into one basket. But chronic back pain is not the same as pain from CRPS or trigeminal neuralgia. And rheumatoid arthritis and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome are not on the same level physiologically or psychologically as tension headaches.

It’s as though all cancers were considered as one. As though basal cell carcinoma - the least dangerous of cancers -- requires chemotherapy and radiation just like breast or lung cancer.

Many of us already have to fight not being accepted or believed by families, friends and colleagues. I wonder if it is time to put some of that energy into working with medical providers so they will accept that not all pain is the same.  And our needs should be treated as any other chronic medical condition.

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Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.” 

Carol is the moderator of the Facebook support group “Women in Pain Awareness.” Her blog “The Pained Life” can be found here.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.