Everybody has pain. In hard numbers, about 75 million American suffer from chronic pain, including epidemic proportions of people with “invisible” causes, like fibromyalgia, lupus, or Crohn’s disease. People with pain, especially those without a visible cause, often face skepticism, derision, and exasperation from families tired of hearing excuses. It’s difficult for other people to understand something they cannot see or feel. Constant mild to moderate pain disrupts a person’s life, reducing the ability to focus, work, exercise, and even sleep. After a while, a person in constant pain enters sleep-deprivation zombieville, equally unable to sleep or fully awaken. The more severe the pain, the more serious the consequences. Left untreated, chronic pain often leads to depression, feelings of worthlessness, and increased risk of suicide.
How you can help
As a pharmacist, you see them all the time: the people who seem to be beaten down by pain. They move carefully to minimize jarring. Maybe they strain to get words out, or rest their hands on the counter to support themselves as they wait. What can you do when you see these aching people month after month but dispense no pain medication? Talk to them. Some people just need to be acknowledged to get the ball rolling. Well meaning family members and friends can make the problem worse by encouraging a chronic pain sufferer to avoid taking pain medication because they saw something on the news and they are concerned about addiction. You may save a life by handing out information and talking over different options for pain management.
Minor or moderate pain sufferers may benefit from a number of non-prescription therapy and strategy options. A heart-healthy diet, weight loss, gentle exercise (think slow, graceful movements that increase flexibility, like yoga or tai chi), ice or heat wraps, analgesic patches, and hydration can be safely recommended in addition to OTC pain medication. Depending on the source of the pain, it’s possible that none of this will help, but it is unlikely to hurt and may improve the overall health and well-being of the customer.
Learning about chronic pain
Dr. Elliot Krane is a pediatric pain expert whose goal is to educate people about the nature of pain, and his TED video, The Mystery of Chronic Pain, is well worth watching. He talks about how pain signals become confused, causing the nervous system to develop endless feedback loops until pain is not so much a symptom as a new and debilitating disease.
Pain is a misunderstood condition, but it is too common to be ignored. We pharmacists are in a position to make a world of difference to chronic pain sufferers. It’s all about quality of life. And being on our feet all day, we are certainly not immune to pain. By taking some time during Pain Awareness Month to broaden our own knowledge, we may have found information to share with our customers that we will inevitably need for ourselves. What advice do you give to pain sufferers? Do you invite that conversation?