Mental Health, Chronic Pain, and the Power of Hope in Pain Management
By Advanced Pain Care; an interview with Dr. Victor Taylor
“Pain is a more terrible lord of mankind than even death itself.” This quote by Albert Swietzer is, fortunately not a truth most of us have to deal with on a daily basis. For some people, however, pain becomes an ever-present part of their lives.
Everyone has experienced pain. By the time we are old enough to remember anything we have had multiple falls, pinches, scrapes, and dings. By the time we reach adulthood, most people have had a sprained ankle, broken bone, or a cut that required stitches.
As we progress through life, people deal with the pain of giving birth or having surgery, or other big trauma. Every human being on Earth, outside of a specific genetic disorder, knows what pain is.
Pain is noxious; we don’t like it, and it causes us to react in a way to eliminate the source of the pain. Neurologically pain is hard-wired into the emotional processing centers of the brain. We are built to respond to pain and avoid situations that we have learned will cause pain. Pain is there to tell us that our body is being damaged. It serves a survival purpose.
For most people, the pain we experience is relatively short-lived. It gets better in a few hours to a few months. We get over it and move on with life.
For many people, however, pain becomes chronic.
Think about that for a minute– imagine a pain you experienced and now imagine it persisted, just staying there, every minute of every day, never letting up. After 3 months– the threshold for calling a condition chronic– the pain remains, then 4 months, 5, and then the months turn into years.
What are the common causes of chronic pain?
The majority of patients who experience chronic pain start with what may seem like a minor case of back, neck, or other problems related to the muscles and joints of the body. The musculoskeletal system accounts for 90% of the pain that we see in our clinic. Back pain, neck pain, arms, legs, hips, knees, ribs, etc., make up the majority of chronic pain issues.
Other complaints are directly related to the nervous system and include headaches, sciatica, and other radicular nerve pains in the arms, legs, or trunk (ribs and abdomen). Shingles and postherpetic neuralgia, nerve entrapment syndromes, and hyperactivity of the nerves in conditions like complex religious pain syndrome, tic del a roux, or fibromyalgia.
Impact of Chronic Pain
Think back to how limiting acute, or short-lived pain can be. Chronic pain can have a life-changing impact on people. Being in pain may initially keep a person from doing the extra stuff. Maybe skipping a workout or slowing down. Over time, chronic pain can take away the enjoyment of every activity, from work to even family life. Patients tell us that they can’t play with their children or grandchildren, garden, play golf, or help around the house.
Being in pain all the time is depressing, interferes with relationships, and can make people angry or withdrawn. It impacts every aspect of life. Even sleeping or going to the bathroom may become onerous.
Chronic pain and mental health: our approach at the clinic
If you’ve ever been sick for a week or two, you probably know the feeling that sickness creates with your psychological disposition. Getting winded walking up the stairs when you’re used to being able to easily stroll without any issues, will naturally make you feel more distressed, hopeless, or aggravated at what your life is versus what it once was.
Now, imagine having that same feeling– a lack of movement and ongoing pain– for 1-2 years or 10, even 20. That’s what many of our patients come in dealing with.
At this point, some patients haven’t been able to work around their house, mow their lawn or do the dishes, do what they enjoy like golf or swimming, and even work to make a living. Naturally, chronic pain eventually leads to changes in a person’s outlook. It impacts their mental health. How are mental health and chronic pain connected?
It’s no secret: people’s mental health gets better when they feel better.
When a person can’t work without pain, can’t play without pain, or begins to lose connections to other people because of pain, they can eventually be ground down, lose hope… lose their fighting spirit. When we as human beings lose that fighting spirit we can give up and become hopeless.
As pain management specialists, sometimes, some encouragement after a patient’s session is a big contributor to their healing journey, on top of the pain care they’re already received. Simply reminding our patients of the power they truly have over their bodies, and how capable they are of getting through it, no matter how tough it is now, can be everything to someone who feels like they’re losing hope.
A very important aspect of treating chronic pain is to try to remind people of their fighting spirit. Sometimes even a little tough love, to remind people that we each have to work, and sometimes hard, to make even minor progress. The alternative is just to give up. To make lasting progress, people need to be fully engaged and do their part. Treating chronic pain, cannot be passive, if we want the best possible results
Sometimes, it’s all about reminding people that there’s still hope and that we have to adapt to changes to thrive.
Think about it: if you’re baking a cake, but eat just the raw eggs, it’s not going to taste great, nor is eating the flour on its own. You need to put it all together to uncover the true flavor. That’s what we strive to do: get their pain under control through the integrated approach and procedures catered specifically to them and being a team member during the entire process.
What sort of “homework” do you give patients after their sessions with you?
In our Amarillo branch, we’ll typically give our patients some general exercises to do if they need it, and then refer them out to some rehab-oriented specialists in town while we grow our practice to encompass rehab as well. For our other branches like in Austin, everything is under one roof, with the ability for them to schedule physical therapy and rehab in-house!
We also commonly recommend a book to them called Body for Life, by Bill Phillips. It teaches patients how to weight train and regain both their mental and physical strength. Of course, we can’t make our patients do anything, but we can at least point them in the right direction.
As APC grows, we strive for all of our branches to have a multidisciplinary approach, connecting many interconnected specialties under one roof so physical therapists can communicate with anesthesiologists and surgeons without the patient having to get overwhelmed with shuffling paperwork.
While we’re still growing this area at our Amarillo branch, we do have a collection of relationships with other clinics so we can make the pain management journey as simple as possible for our patients. So if you’re in Texas and looking for pain management care, contact an APC near you to get the help you deserve. We believe in being your doctors and your teammates.