Pain Management: Myths & Misconceptions
Pain that was once considered untreatable has become merely an inconvenience today thanks to advances in physical therapy, pharmaceuticals and natural pain management methodology.
Despite this, many myths about pain management continue to circulate. Here are some common misconceptions about acute (short-lasting) and chronic (long-lasting) pain management and the realities behind them.
Myth: You just have to live with pain.
Reality: Whether a product of toxic masculinity or the belief that nothing will safely alleviate symptoms, many people firmly assert that living with pain is the only way to manage it.
In truth, sufferers have several ways to manage pain, including over-the-counter as well as prescription medications that can offer comfort. Many people who want to avoid medication report finding relief through "natural" methods, including meditation, exercise and learning other pain-coping skills. Even pet therapy, often used to help someone cope with a health problem, can be of great benefit.
Myth: Pain medication is a permanent fix.
Reality: Pain medication isn't intended to become a permanent part of your life. Doctors typically begin treatment for any level of pain by prescribing nonaddictive, over-the-counter medications.
If these are ineffective, the physician may prescribe stronger, nonnarcotic meds. Prescription narcotics are usually prescribed if nothing else works, but for a short period of time and under medical supervision because they often bring their own risks with overuse. A physician can help weigh the benefits and risks—depending on a patient's level of pain—and supervise the tapering off process when it's time to ease off strong painkillers.
Whether dealing with pain caused by an accident or diseases like cancer, pain medication is intended to be temporary in most cases. Always discuss what you're taking with your physician so you understand the dosage as well as how to recognize any side effects.
Myth: The older you get, the more pain you can expect.
Reality: Some pain from wear and tear does seem to come with the aging process. But it doesn't have to get in the way of enjoying yourself. Of course, pain can come at any time in the course of a person's life—as the result of an injury or illness, arthritis, cancer, nerve problems and more—but as you get older, some conditions have a way of catching up to you.
A Norwegian study measured pain, quality of life, mood, and demographic and health-related variables in three age groups: younger people (18-39 years), middle-aged (40-59 years), and older adults (60-81 years). The results saw the younger group experiencing more pain due to injuries and accidents, with the middle-aged group reporting many pains from various parts of their heads and bodies—often without even knowing where they were coming from. The older group had more long-term pain issues, such as osteoarthritis, but they reported the highest satisfaction with their lives.
The least happy were the middle-aged group.
Pain levels can vary with age, but pain is not necessarily something older adults are doomed to suffer.
Myth: Only opioid-based medications really work for moderate to severe pain.
Reality: Although the circumstances around an injury dictate the type of medicine a doctor prescribes, the belief that only opioid medicines will stave off pain is a fallacy. The ideal medication works on the source of the pain, and the choice can depend on other factors.
For example, moderate pain can be the result of inflammation. In this case, nonopioid, anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen may be just as effective, if not more so, than opioid-based medications.
The best way to know which medication works for a particular pain situation is by consulting a physician, not just opting for the strongest available medication you have on hand. If you're in pain, the doctor's office should be your first point of contact.
Myth: Bed rest is the most effective cure for chronic pain.
Reality: An antiquated notion is that bed rest is the most effective treatment for chronic pain, such as back pain. But in a Harvard Medical School study, bed rest played such a minimal role in reducing pain that doctors no longer recommend it except if the patient has been standing or sitting for long periods of time.
Instead of bed rest, experts now suggest patients be active, starting with light to moderate exercises. With a mix of flexibility exercises, strength training and aerobics, a patient can decrease both acute and chronic pain. Strengthening the muscles around an injury is pivotal in reducing pain. Plus, the release of endorphins and serotonin during a workout can also help with stress or depression associated with a serious injury.
Not everyone suffers pain in the same way, but you shouldn't have to live with that pain. Rather than self-medicating, it is always best to consult a medical professional who can advise you on the best methods and medications to help alleviate your discomfort.