When you have chronic pain, it's hard to sort out the myths from the facts. To feel better, are you supposed to rest in bed or go jogging? Should you talk to your doctor about trying potent opioid painkillers or should you steer clear? Is it worth trying that "miracle cure" that your co-worker absolutely swears cured her sciatica?
Chronic pain is a serious and debilitating condition. Many people suffering with chronic pain are so desperate for help that they're willing to believe anything -- and as a result buy into some chronic pain myths that could be unwise and even dangerous.
To help you separate the chronic pain myths from the facts, WebMD turned to noted pain management specialists. Here's what they had to say.
Myth: To Cure Chronic Pain, Just Treat the Underlying Cause
Treating chronic pain is just not that simple.Yes, sometimes treating the cause does resolve the pain: if you have a tack in your foot, you remove the tack. Anyone with chronic pain must get a complete work-up by a doctor to see if there's a treatable problem or disease, says Anne Louise Oaklander, MD, PhD, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.
But in many cases, the intersection of an underlying cause and pain is more complicated. Painful diseases might be chronic and hard to control. Sometimes pain lingers even after the original cause seems to have been resolved. Other times, the cause of pain is just plain mysterious.
"With some people, we run all the tests but we just can't figure out what's causing the pain," says Steven P. Cohen, MD, director of pain research at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. "We can't come up with a diagnosis."
People with chronic pain often need a two-pronged approach: get treatment for the underlying cause (if there is one) and separately treat the pain itself. That often means seeing a pain expert as well as other doctors.
Fact: Even Mild Chronic Pain Should Be Checked by a Doctor
Pain experts say that too many people still struggle through life with chronic pain for no reason. People think that if their pain is bearable, it's not worth asking a doctor about it.
However, you need to get pain evaluated, even if it's mild. First, it could be the sign of an underlying disease or health problem that needs treatment. Second, treating pain promptly can sometimes prevent it from turning into hard-to-treat chronic pain.
Beyond that, it's always important to take pain seriously in its own right. Chronic pain is insidious. It sneaks up on people, worsening slowly and imperceptibly.
Without realizing it, you might develop unhealthy ways of coping with it. That might include using over-the-counter painkillers for a long time or at high doses, which can have serious risks. People with chronic pain are also at higher risk of relying on alcohol or other substances to numb their pain.
Over time, chronic pain can also lead to sleep deprivation, social isolation, depression, and other problems that can affect your relationships at home and at work.