Every year, the month of September is designated Pain Awareness Month, a time to recognize the 100 million people in the U.S. suffering from chronic pain and raise awareness about the condition.
Pain Awareness Month, organized by the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA), first began in 2001. The awareness effort targets health care providers, legislators, the business community, and the general public.
Informing the public about the effects of chronic pain is critical for helping patients improve their quality of life. Pain affects all facets of a person’s existence, from work to family to daily living.
Because it’s so difficult to fully understand the rigors of living with chronic pain, spouses, siblings, friends, coworkers, bosses, and even doctors and nurses sometimes don’t know how to respond to those dealing with the condition.
Pain Awareness Month seeks to spur dialogue about chronic pain in order to improve the lives of those affected.
Since the first year that Pain Awareness Month was held, the focus has expanded. In 2004, leaders in chronic pain gathered in Washington D.C. to discuss ways of making the issue a priority in national healthcare policy.
In the years since, ACPA has leveraged Pain Awareness Month to encourage additional research into chronic pain conditions and treatments, convince state governments to pass awareness proclamations, and work with local advocates to host grassroots events throughout the country.
Chronic pain varies in severity, but many people find it dramatically impacts their daily activities. The condition is a leading cause of disability, and a huge financial burden.
Annual health care costs are estimated to be as high as $635 billion, according to the American Academy of Pain. That includes both the financial burden of care and lost wages. Meanwhile, rising healthcare costs have left more people unable to afford medications and doctor visits.
Chronic pain is a public health crisis, affecting millions, but public discussion is limited. Change that during Pain Awareness Month.
Also in 2004, ACPA developed the first chronic pain tool kits for nurses, designed to enhance their knowledge of the condition and how to communicate with and assess patients.
Many primary care physicians and nurses are on the front lines of chronic pain. Unfortunately, few have the time or expertise necessary to correctly diagnose and adequately treat pain. This has resulted in a tragic over-dependence on opioids to alleviate patient suffering. The drugs are ineffective in the long term and can lead to devastating, sometimes fatal health consequences.
Despite the rise in prescription drug use, people are not experiencing less pain. Pain Awareness Month seeks to build momentum for a wiser, more thorough, effective, and compassionate approach for pain management. Managing pain is at the heart of easing a patient’s suffering.
“Few things a doctor does are more important than relieving pain. . . pain is soul destroying.” — Marcia Angell with the Harvard Medical School.
Raising awareness about chronic pain is critical for achieving this mission. Building community support helps to ease the suffering of all, especially since chronic pain affects not only the patient, but also the family. Patients derive a great deal of solace from seeing others rally around the cause. Most importantly, talking about the issue begins the process of finding solutions to solvable problems.
One solvable problem is working to ensure physicians and other healthcare professionals receive more pain management training. Most doctors receive just a few hours, despite chronic pain being so pervasive, according to ACPA. Unmanaged pain has serious health impacts, including slowed recovery from surgery and increased visits to the emergency room.
Pain is often a signal of a more pressing problem that needs to be addressed. Common causes of chronic pain include arthritis, which involves the degradation of cartilage, and back pain, which affects as many as 80% of the population at some point in their lives, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Headaches and migraines are another common source of chronic pain that affect everyone from children to adults. Migraines in particular are difficult to treat and are often not responsive to medication.
Other widespread conditions such as fibromyalgia, neuropathy, and phantom limb sensation, are little understood but affect many people. Living every day with an incurable medical condition that causes pain and reduces quality of life can be incredibly difficult.
Because chronic pain so fundamentally affects a person’s health and life, ACPA advocates that:
“Pain should be considered the fifth vital sign, along with respiration, pulse, blood pressure, and core temperature.”
If you are a chronic pain patient, be sure to take time for self-care this month. ACPA recommends a few tips to make life easier:
- Check out the organization’s relaxation video, featuring a guided meditation. Breathe in, breathe out, relax, and feel the stress wash away.
- Review ACPA’s patient communication tools that help chronic pain patients map pain and better communicate with healthcare professionals. Be sure to download the doctor visit follow-up card that offers an easy to way stay on top of doctor recommendations. A daily activity checklist also helps you identify portions of your life affected the most by pain.
How can I participate in Pain Awareness Month?
Raising awareness is easy and can involve small actions or bigger projects. You can:
- Talk with friends and family, alerting them that it’s Pain Awareness Month.
- Use the power of social media by tweeting Pain Awareness Month messages or liking the ACPA on Facebook.
- Follow along on Arizona Pain’s social media channels as we discuss multiple pain topics this month. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest.
- Talk with your doctor or nurse, and let them know about Pain Awareness Month. ACPA has downloadable PDFs on its website written specifically to educate nurses and pharmacists about chronic pain and the things they can do to ease the way for patients.
- Contact your city councilor, state legislator, or congressional representative. Ask them what they’re doing to help people with chronic pain.
- Reach out to your local newspaper or television station and ask if they have pain awareness coverage planned. ACPA also has a media kit available for sending to reporters who might be interested in writing about the topic. If you know of a good story idea, be sure to inform them.
Do you plan on participating in Pain Awareness Month?