Many Americans downplay pain as an annoying part of getting older. In fact, one recent study found that we rank pain at the bottom of a list of health concerns including cancer, obesity, heart disease, alcohol and drug abuse, and AIDS.
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But chronic pain is a bona fide disease that is on the rise, says Cleveland Clinic pain management expert, Joseph Abdelmalak, MD. Chronic pain and its treatments are frequently misunderstood and steeped in myth. Below are answers to 7 frequently asked questions from our experts:
- Pain is a natural side effect of aging. Sometimes it can be. As we age, some “nuisance pain” from physical wear and tear is normal. That differs from chronic pain.
- It’s better to tough it out and just live with pain. Ignoring pain can have serious consequences, especially if you choose to self-medicate in unhealthy ways rather than see a healthcare professional.
- You can injure yourself further if you exercise when in pain. Exercise such as physical therapy can be key to successful rehabilitation. Keep moving!
- You can become addicted to painkillers if you take them too long. Actually, the risk of addiction is exaggerated. The incidence of narcotic addiction among chronic pain patients is about the same as in the general population. A pain management specialist will ensure that you receive the right dose for the right amount of time.
- You can get a heart attack from taking COX-2 inhibitors for pain. Heart attacks and other vascular problems occur in only a fraction of patients using these anti-inflammatory medications. The benefits may outweigh the risks for chronic pain patients.
- Chronic pain can kill you. No, but it can have a profound effect on your quality of life. Certain severe situations may prompt suicidal feelings if pain seems unbearable. It’s critical to seek help from a pain management professional before despair sets in.
- Dwelling on pain won’t make it worse than it already is. The psychological suffering that comes with physical pain can certainly make you more miserable. Dwelling on the pain in your mind can serve to emphasize it.
Keep in mind that managing — rather than curing — chronic pain is the goal of treatment. Pain management experts can teach you how to live a full, productive life despite chronic pain.