Donald feels like a new man. After years of enduring debilitating back pain, he's finally feeling well enough to coach his daughter's soccer team, to take his kids fishing and camping, and to go on a cruise with his wife. He said goodbye to sickness, short tempers, the heating pad, couch, sedating medication, and seemingly ineffective surgeries after he sought the services of a pain specialist.
"It's changed my whole life," says Donald, who now wears a prescribed patch on his upper arm, which steadily administers a pain-killing medicine.
On the night of March 28, 1986, Howard Heit's car was struck in a head-on collision. He left the scene of the serious crash thinking how lucky he was that he hadn't been hurt. "And then four to six weeks later, I started noticing twitches in the muscles of my neck and upper back. These progressed to marked spasms of my neck, shoulders, and upper back," he recalls.
The pain never ceased. All day, every day it plagued him. It became difficult for him to walk -- and almost impossible for him to work...
The 40-year-old registered nurse is resigned to the idea that he will probably be on drugs for the rest of his life because of permanent nerve damage. All the same, he's marveling at his renewed strength and capacity to think of something else besides pain.
Donald is one of many who have turned to pain management experts for help with never-ending hurts. The specialty is relatively new and still suffers from misconceptions, but it is gradually earning the acceptance and respect of both health professionals and the general public.
With acknowledgement have come the pressing questions: What causes chronic pain? How is it diagnosed? How is it treated?
Unfortunately, the answers don't come so readily, for there could be several reasons for the same affliction; there is no one way to identify and measure the physical distress; and there is no magic bullet for treatment.
The good news is that doctors are now paying more attention to the issue of pain and, as a result, there are more ways than ever to tackle the problem.
Yet in the near future looms a darker picture: aging baby boomers are expected to ache for quick fixes, faster than the medical establishment can possibly provide.
Nevertheless, the optimistic search for reasons and relief continues.
Many doctors define chronic pain as a physical distress that persists at least six months. The pain specialists interviewed by WebMD listed back, neck, head, and musculoskeletal pain as the most common. The relentless misery is also known to plague people with certain diseases, such as diabetes, and cancer.