September is Pain Awareness Month, a month that was first established by the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA) in 2001. The ACPA and their umbrella organization, Partners for Understanding Pain, established a coalition committed to raising awareness of chronic pain conditions though mass media and public forms. This was also meant to abolish the stigma attached to these conditions.
The ACPA also wished to promote effective and personalized treatments for individuals dealing with the effects of chronic pain. The ACPA hoped for medical professionals, individuals, and families to better understand the challenges of chronic pain and pain management and created educational tools to assist them in their cause. They also sought to work with leaders in the business community, legislators, and the general public to spread the word that chronic pain is a serious public health issue.
“Whoever said ‘No Pain, No Gain’ never had chronic pain!”
In the 13 years that followed, the ACPA has hosted a number of conferences to promote their idea and to bring awareness to the challenges of chronic pain.
What is the impact of chronic pain on everyday life?
While chronic pain certainly has a physical component, it also influences every aspect of life for the affected individual and those around them. There are high rates of depression and other mental well-being challenges for people suffering from chronic pain conditions. With the extreme varieties and causes of chronic pain there is no one-size-fits-all solution to stop the pain. In severe case, the condition itself is incurable.
Chronic pain can affect individuals and their families in the following ways.
Chronic pain can make it difficult to remain employed
Many adults in the United States are unemployed due to injuries or illnesses that affect their ability to work full-time jobs outside of the home. While disability or unemployment insurance can cover some of the costs, long-term unemployment also leads to decreased engagement with the outside world.
Chronic pain creates challenges for self or child care
Chronic pain can be debilitating. Often doing simple household tasks is excruciating. Add children to the equation and many sufferers of chronic pain find it difficult to maintain a regular home life as well.
Chronic pain can create weakness in other parts of the body
Known as “disuse syndrome,” other healthy parts of the body can suffer when someone is dealing with the effects of chronic pain. In order to minimize pain, they may avoid additional movements which then leads to a “use it or lose it” scenario with other functions of the body.
Chronic pain can lead to depression or anxiety
Chronic pain can quickly become a burden for the person experiencing it. This can lead to a lack of desire to interact with others on a social basis or cause intense feelings of depression. It is important that medical professionals understand this and treat both the physical and mental effects of chronic pain.
While awareness is being raised about depression and chronic pain, however, not as many individuals or healthcare providers know that anxiety can also be related to the experience of long-term painful conditions. Panic disorders and social anxiety are just a few ways this can manifest.
Chronic pain conditions can make concentrating difficult
One of the most common effects of chronic pain is difficulty concentrating on general day-to-day tasks. Pain can sometimes be so overwhelming that it is difficult to do anything else but dwell on the pain. Some treatments only mask the symptoms, but there are some holistic options that can encompass all aspects of the human body and provide relief for chronic pain.
Pain Awareness Month isn’t only crucial for individuals suffering from chronic pain conditions, however. It is also essential for medical professionals, employers, and even members of the general public to understand how these oftentimes invisible conditions can make life difficult.
How can you get involved?
The Pain Awareness Month website offers a number of tips and ideas for getting involved throughout September. Here is just a short list of things you can do in your own home or community to show your support.
Start by talking with your friends and family about Pain Awareness Month. “Like!” the ACPA Facebook page and get the discussion going to raise awareness. Simply spreading the word can ignite a fire of understanding.
If you are experiencing pain in your own life or you know someone who is, talk with your healthcare provider about Pain Awareness Month. Discuss overall pain management and how you may be able to take a holistic approach to your recovery. Remember, chronic pain isn’t just about the condition but it affects your entire mind, body, and spirit.
Recognize that you or your loved one needs the support of others who also experience and understand chronic pain. Acknowledge the emotions you feel and validate them as completely normal in the situation. Learn how your attitude can affect your well-being and try to stay positive. Focus on relaxation to relieve tension and redirect energy to thoughts other than the pain.
You can also try to stay active in any way you can, taking into account the limitation of your condition. This can help you stay strong and flexible as well as help release endorphins that naturally fight off feelings of depression. Set realistic goals with yourself, your family, and your healthcare provider.
You can also join a support group, either online or in your community, to help alleviate feelings of isolation. Spread the word to your community to establish support networks. Talk to local government officials to have Pain Awareness Month recognized in your area. If you want to take a more active role in the discussion, start a conversation with your local media to bring more awareness to these invisible conditions right in your city or town.
Most of all, use the month of September to take time out for yourself and your loved ones. Learn new stress release techniques, engage with your community, and learn about new and integrated ways to alleviate pain in your life or the life of someone you care about. Pain Awareness Month is about starting those conversations and taking the negative stigma away from those suffering from chronic conditions so get involved!
How do you plan to recognize Pain Awareness Month through September?