A wellness perspective on pain management

by: Cyrus Sepahbodi

A CDC study in 2016, an estimated 20.4% of U.S. adults had chronic pain and 8.0% of U.S. adults had high-impact chronic pain. Meaning approximately 50 million Americans are living with some form of chronic pain every day. It’s no wonder that health economists reported in The Journal of Pain that the annual cost of chronic pain in the United States is as high as $635 billion a year, which is more than the yearly costs for cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Looking at that amount in another perspective, $635 billion represents the entire consumer goods industry in the United States. These facts beg the question: What is it really like to live with chronic pain?

Maybe we need to take a long look in the mirror about how pain is managed in the United States?

Money is Medicine is Money is…

Trying to wrap your head around the idea that 50 million people in this country live with chronic pain is hard enough. But when you add a $635 billion medical tab to it, you start to wonder if pain management is being managed well, if at all. Most people who don’t have chronic pain would likely not know that there are other factors that go into the daily life of someone who lives in pain. Factors like medical costs, the prevalence of prescription opioid use and its problems, and the resulting work loss that are also associated with acute pain.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information has done studies about ‘The Economic Costs of Pain in the United States’ found that ‘the total incremental cost of healthcare due to pain ranged from $261 to $300 billion. The value of lost productivity is based on three estimates: days of work missed (ranging from $11.6 to $12.7 billion), hours of work lost (from $95.2 to $96.5 billion), and lower wages (from $190.6 to $226.3 billion).’ 

All of those dollars start to add up. But It’s not just about the money either. There’s prescriptions opioids to consider as well:

“Not since the HIV/AIDS epidemic has the United States faced as devastating and lethal a health problem as the current crisis of opioid misuse and overdose and opioid use disorder (OUD). Current national trends indicate that each year more people die of overdoses—the majority of which involve opioid drugs—than died in the entirety of the Vietnam War, the Korean War, or any armed conflict since the end of World War II. Each day 90 Americans die prematurely from an overdose that involves an opioid.”*

You may be thinking: wait… 90 people per day? Yes, you read that right. And yes, I know that most people’s eyes start to roll back into their skulls when they get a hint of anti-pharma/big business rants but I have to ask you to really consider… are opioids really the answer? Are opioids just a band-aid to the country’s greater chronic pain problems? 

But if opioids aren’t the answer, then what is?

Wellness as Preventative Medicine

If you ask any medical professional whether it is better to treat the symptoms or cure the disease you’ll likely get a cynical response back— well, what do you think Sherlock? Maybe the answer is multifactorial and needs to be looked at in a different perspective. With costs of care so astronomical and opioids as impactful as they are, maybe we should consider wellness as a means of preventative care. For those who are unfamiliar, preventive medicine focuses on the health of individuals. The goal of wellness is to protect, promote, and maintain health and well-being and to prevent disease and disability. Wellness is a lifestyle and mindset based out of the idea that in order to live a better life, you have to be proactive about how you live your life. And when you incorporate daily wellness you can approach living life with chronic pain one step at a time to make daily life better.

But How Do I Start Incorporating Wellness Into My Daily Life?

For people with chronic pain physical limitations may prevent adding strenuous exercise, but wellness doesn’t have to be activity-focused. Doing what’s best for your body is really the foundation. You can easily start by meditating ten minutes per day. Being active also helps a lot, such as taking a fifteen minute walk or trying a restorative yoga session. Focusing on your emotional health is just as important as your physical health. Create system of support through family and friends or try finding a pain support group. Eat healthy food, find healthy outlets for stress, and socialize regularly. Every little bit helps. 

Remember, there is no wrong way to start and no action is too small. Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthier and more-fulfilling life. Start with baby steps and keep in mind, this is about change and growth!

So What is it Really Like to Live with Chronic Pain?

It’s an expensive struggle that tests the mind and the body. Many individuals with chronic pain experience depression, anxiety, fear of injury, or anger. Being cognizant of your mental health is no small matter, but taking steps to improve mental health really makes a difference. Taking up a daily meditation and yoga practice can help you de-stress, reduce anxiety, and make the body stronger. Finding time to connect with people and find support is also a vital part of mental health and well-being. 

Adopting daily wellness practices can help improve life. Start by being mindful of yourself, your needs, and finding ways to take better care of yourself. And don’t give up! Living a better and more-fulfilling life is worth some change and growth. And really though, what have you got to lose?

References

  • Darrell J. Gaskin, Patrick Richard. ‘The Economic Costs of Pain in the United States.’ The Journal of Pain, 2012; 13 (8): 715 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpain.2012.03.009
  • ‘Pain Management and the Opioid Epidemic: Balancing Societal and Individual Benefits and Risks of Prescription Opioid Use.’ National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Health Sciences Policy; Committee on Pain Management and Regulatory Strategies to Address Prescription Opioid Abuse; Phillips JK, Ford MA, Bonnie RJ, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017 Jul 13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK458661/