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Pain Management Health Center

The Price Tag of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain comes at a cost -- from lost wages to social stigma. You don't have to pay the price.
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A Hidden Cost of Chronic Pain: Worsening Health

That's because pain can start a vicious cycle that has a direct impact on your health.

Perhaps your knee starts hurting when you walk. The natural response for many is to walk less. But "if you stop walking, the muscles, tendons and nerves in your legs atrophy and deteriorate," says Edwards. "If you become inactive as a result, that leads to all sorts of problems like heart disease and diabetes."

Just one injury can turn an active, healthy person into an inactive and unhealthy one.

Surgery can have the same result. "Many people develop pain after surgery or after illnesses like shingles," says Steven P. Cohen, MD, an anesthesiologist in the division of pain medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. If they don't get the pain treated promptly, he says, it can become chronic. And that can lead to yet greater ills.

"People who have chronic pain are exponentially more likely to have psychiatric illnesses like depression and anxiety disorders," says Edwards.

Another Price of Pain: Social Stigma

Pain has a high social cost for the sufferer, too. Because pain is a personal and subjective experience, it can lead to problems with family and co-workers. While you may be in terrible distress, the people around you just can't see or feel what you're going through.

"I think people in pain sometimes get unfairly dismissed by family and co-workers" Robert Bonakdar, MD, tells WebMD, "especially when they don't have an outward sign of suffering, like a cast or a bandage." Bonakdar is the director of integrative pain management at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, La Jolla, Calif.

Cohen says this is toughest for people who suffer from painful syndromes, like fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and complex regional pain syndrome.

"There's much less sympathy and understanding for these elusive syndromes," says Cohen. While Edwards says that the treatment for pain can often lead to as much stigma as the pain itself.

"When people hear that you're taking a narcotic pain reliever like methadone," he says, "they associate it with addicts." That can lead people to make some very wrong assumptions about you.

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