September is Pain Awareness Month, sponsored by the American Chronic Pain Association. Millions of Americans live with pain from injuries, autoimmune and inflammatory disorders, cancer, and other disabilities. Pain can be acute, with a beginning and end, or it can be chronic and may last through a person’s lifetime. Acute pain, including pain associated with cancer, can usually be addressed through treatment of the underlying injury or illness. Chronic pain, on the other hand, may be more difficult to treat, requiring help from several sources: primary care providers, clinical specialists, pain management specialists, and mental health professionals. People with chronic pain may also turn to complementary integrated health specialists who may focus on supportive therapies like meditation, mindfulness, and other options.
For some, pain is a hallmark of conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.Pain can also be a secondary condition for some physical and psychiatric disabilities. People with spinal cord injury (SCI) can experience pain from over-working their shoulders as they propel a manual wheelchair or transfer in and out of their chairs. People with cerebral palsy can experience pain in muscles and joints due to spasticity. Individuals with post-polio syndrome may experience pain from joint degeneration. Headache pain is a common condition after a traumatic brain injury. People with depression can experience body pain as part of their condition. These are just a few examples of how disability and pain may interact.
Pain has a significant impact on quality of life and can limit a person’s ability to function, so managing pain is critical. Medications, including opioids, play an important role, but too often medication is used as the sole approach to pain management when other protocols could be more effective and/or result in fewer side effects.
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