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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.

Cashing In on Unconventional Chronic Pain Relief

Frustration has caused many people to seek out other ways of treating their pain. These include approaches like acupuncture, massage, biofeedback, focused relaxation, meditation, and other techniques. Many people find that they help.

"The statistics are staggering," says Bonakdar. "One survey of people with low back pain showed that 68% rated acupuncture and massage as 'very helpful.' Only 27% said that about seeing their doctor."

The demand for complementary treatments (sometimes called alternative medicine) has grown so much that traditional medicine has gotten in on the act. Across the country, new integrative or complementary medicine centers have appeared in prestigious hospitals. Many offer treatments that doctors would have scoffed at a few years ago.

However, you need to be careful. Some complementary pain treatments are risky. This is especially true of supplements, which can cause serious side effects or interactions.But it's very easy to ignore these dangers when you're suffering. "When pain has taken over your life, you stop thinking logically," says Cowan. "That's when you can fall into traps." Bonakdar says that some unscrupulous companies sell so-called miracle pain relievers to prey on the desperation of people in chronic pain.

"I see patients who wind up having a dozen different alternative practitioners, each prescribing a different supplement," Bonakdar tells WebMD. "No one knows what the other is doing. No one is keeping track."

Such a scattershot approach is unlikely to help. It's also more likely to cause side effects or interactions. If you're interested in complementary treatments, talk to your doctor, who can help you coordinate your treatment. And remember, he or she must always know about each vitamin, supplement, and complementary treatment you use.

Investing in You: Demanding to Feel Better

Experts do think we've made progress in the battle against chronic pain. Pain management has become a standard part of medical training. There's also a great deal of effort being put into pain research.

But pain specialists agree we haven't done enough.

"Pain management in the 21st century is more than just improving your rating on a [1 to 10] pain score," Cohen tells WebMD. "It's about how well you can function, your mood, your and your quality of life." It's about allowing someone to be active and productive again.

"I see patients who say that treatment has reduced their pain from an 8 to a 4," says Bonakdar. "That's great, but they're still depressed, they can't sleep, and they're mentally foggy. We need to treat the whole person, not just the pain."

As a pain sufferer, you have to speak up. The costs of pain -- emotionally and financially, personally and societally -- are simply too high to ignore. So tell your doctor about your pain. Explain how it limits you. If your treatment isn't working, ask what alternatives you can try.

"The bottom line is that people need to take a more active role with their health care providers and demand treatment," Cowan tells WebMD. "You have a right to have your pain managed."

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Reviewed on August 15, 2007

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