written by Catherine Craig M.S. L.Ac….
The Department of Health and Human Services and Center for Disease Control has declared the Opioid Epidemic in the United States a public health issue. Since 1999 opioid related deaths have quadrupled, an increase coinciding with the four fold growth of prescribed painkillers for chronic pain and illness. It is important to note that there is no reported decrease in reported pain. <https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html>.
Medical doctors have traditionally received training that prioritizes reduction in pain levels with ‘better outcomes.’ There is no differentiation to distinguish between human pain and human suffering.
Identifying Patients’ in Pain and Suffering
As a healthcare provider who deals with functional pain problems (ex: back pain, frozen shoulder, neuropathy) as well as issues we would readily identify as ‘suffering’ (conditions such as anxiety and depression), I was trained to differentiate between pain and suffering.
Pain is a physical discomfort caused by dysfunction in the physical body (nerve compression, bruising, joint deterioration), whereas suffering is psychic or existential pain at a deeper level. It is essential to note that pain and suffering often go hand in hand.
Many complementary healthcare providers receive training to help differentiate and treat both pain and suffering in functional ways that allow a patient more space to process and navigate this terrain in their healing process.
In my clinical experience, pain and suffering often go hand in hand. The biggest block I see when a chronic pain patient walks in my office is not their pain or functional disturbance, but rather the overuse of opioids in cases where suffering is prevalent. Sadly, opioids become a sweet friend that numbs not only the pain, but leaves many patients unable to show up fully in their lives. Opioids mask the path to healing from suffering as well as act as a band aid for functional pain.
Acupuncture As Treatment for Functional Pain Disorders
Acupuncture works wonders for functional pain problems. It is clinically proven to work for conditions such as osteoarthritis of the knees, low back pain, frozen shoulder, cancer pain and the list goes on.
It is proven to work as a support to patients undergoing cancer therapies – decreasing nausea and pain – regulating immune function and support the detoxification pathways of the body.
The American College of Physicians recently came out with a bold landmark recommendation that opioids should only be used a last ditch effort for those in chronic pain who have not responded to multidisciplinary and functional interventions such as: heat therapy, physical therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, and mindfulness based stress reduction.
Patient Centered Care
There is a need to spend time with patients that walk into our offices and honor their lives, their pain, their healing process, and the goals they have for the healthcare. A geriatric woman wanting to avoid surgery will have very different goals toward managing pain versus a 33 year old active male. I always suggest my patients gather as much information as they can from various practitioners, sources, and make an educated decision with the help of their families that aligns with their resources and goals.
‘Pain management’ is a complex issue that is at the heart of the geopolitical – insurance – pharma – healthcare landscape that rewards ‘sickcare’ and pharmacological intervention. Only by breaking this pattern of dysfunction will the entire system begin to heal into one where prevention and patient centered care are the focus.