Many Americans downplay pain as an annoying part of getting older. However, chronic pain is a bona fide disease that is on the rise, says pain management expert Joseph Abdelmalak, MD. Chronic pain doesn’t just stop at physical pain — one study found that chronic pain has a severe detrimental effect on their social, work and family environment, too.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Chronic pain and its treatments are frequently misunderstood and steeped in myth. Dr. Abdelmalak debunks seven common myths about chronic pain and how you can live your life to its fullest.
Myth #1: Pain is a natural side effect of aging.
While pain sometimes comes with age, there’s a difference between some nuisance pain from physical wear and tear and chronic pain. Chronic pain can be a result of an illness or injury and is also linked to back pain, cancer, arthritis, headache and nerve pain.
In a study that sampled young, middle-aged and older adults with chronic pain, those in the older age group (60 to 81 years old) reported pain that lasted longer and received pain treatment more often. They were, however, more satisfied with their material comforts and their social lives, therefore feeling more comfortable. The middle-aged group (40 to 59 years old) reported the most pain in their bodies and did not know where their pain was coming from. The younger age group (18 to 39 years old) reported more injuries but many weren’t receiving any chronic pain treatment at all.
Chronic pain isn’t just hyperfocused on one age group, it varies with age.
Myth #2: It’s better to tough it out and just live with pain.
Never tough out your pain. From pet therapy to meditation to classic drug treatments, there is a treatment available for everyone. Ignoring your pain can have serious consequences, especially if you choose to self-medicate in unhealthy ways rather than see a healthcare professional.
“Your doctor will be able to guide you toward the best treatment for you so you can live your healthiest, pain-free life,” says Dr. Abdelmalak.
Myth #3: You can injure yourself further if you exercise when in pain.
Exercise such as physical therapy can be key to successful rehabilitation. Light to moderate exercise can even help reduce stress and improve blood and oxygen flow to your muscles.
The benefits of exercise don’t just stop at the physical level — exercising is known to boost your mood and is considered a legitimate treatment for depression, which studies have found that people who suffer from chronic pain also suffer from anxiety and depression.
With so many different types of workouts available to us today, just about anyone can find something they love and will stick to. This goes a long way in boosting both your mental health and your physical health. Your doctor will be able to point you in the direction toward light to moderate exercises to start you off with.
Myth #4: You can become addicted to painkillers if you take them too long.
“The incidence of narcotic addiction among chronic pain patients is about the same as in the general population,” says Dr. Abdelmalak.
The best way to safeguard against addiction? Your doctor will work with you to ensure that you receive the right dose for the right amount of time.
Myth #5: 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. COX-2 inhibitors are used when chronic pain is mild or moderate and work by blocking pain near the pain site, and the benefits may outweigh the risks for chronic pain patients.
Myth #6: Chronic pain can kill you.
Chronic pain cannot kill you, but it can have a profound effect on your quality of life. People who suffer from chronic pain are twice as likely to report suicidal behaviors or commit suicide. The constant struggle with chronic pain can be enough for some people to feel hopeless and unfortunately, contemplate suicide.
If you have suicidal thoughts, it’s imperative that you seek help from support groups, your doctor, family or friends. The free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800.273.8255) is available to connect you with a local counselor 24/7. It’s also available via chat.
“Certain severe situations may prompt suicidal feelings if pain seems unbearable,” says Dr. Abdelmalak. “It’s critical to seek help from a pain management professional before despair sets in.”
Myth #7: Dwelling on pain won’t make it worse than it already is.
Our minds are very powerful. The psychological suffering that comes with physical pain can certainly make you more miserable and 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,” says Dr. Abdelmalak. “Consult with your pain management expert about how you can live a full, productive life despite chronic pain.”