Myth: Bed Rest Is Usually the Best Cure for Pain
The old medical advice for people with some types of chronic pain -- such as back pain -- was to rest in bed. But that's not the case anymore.
"Now we know that for almost all types of chronic pain conditions, not just spinal pain, [prolonged] bed rest is almost never helpful," Cohen says. "In some cases it will actually worsen the prognosis."
It turns out that for most causes of pain, keeping up your normal schedule -- including your physical activity -- will help you get better faster.
Of course, there are some situations where rest is important -- especially for a day or two after an acute injury. So always follow your doctor's advice.
Myth: Increased Pain Is Inevitable as We Age
Pain experts say there is one particularly damaging myth about chronic pain. Too many people think that pain is just a sign of aging and that there's not much to be done about it.
"I think unfortunately too many doctors believe this," Cohen says. "They see an older patient with pain and don't think anything of it."
It's unquestionably true that our odds of developing a painful condition, such as arthritis, are higher as we age. But those conditions can be treated and the pain can be well-controlled. So no matter what your age, never settle for chronic pain.
Fact: Chronic Pain Is Connected With Depression
For many people, chronic pain is intertwined with depression -- as well as anxiety and other psychological conditions.
"There's a very complex relationship between pain and depression," Cohen says. "Pain can be a symptom of depression, and depression can certainly worsen the diagnosis of pain." It's a cruel combination. Often, it's impossible to tell where one cause ends and the other starts.
Of course, some people with chronic pain don't like this idea. They feel that accepting a psychological connection to pain implies that they're making it up, that their pain is "all in their heads." But that's not the case at all.
Depression and anxiety disorders are real medical conditions. Studies have also shown a clear connection between emotional trauma and pain disorders. Brain imaging studies have actually found that physical and psychological pain activates some identical areas in the brain, says Seddon R. Savage, MD, past president of the American Pain Society. Acknowledging that chronic pain and depression are connected in no way diminishes what you're feeling.
Also, some antidepressants have been shown to help manage certain types of chronic pain. Your doctor might suggest an antidepressant for your chronic pain, even if you are not depressed.