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7 Harmful Myths About Chronic Pain

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Reprinted with the kind permission of ChronicMom
Myth #1 – Taking pain medication makes you an addict.
Fact:  There is a difference between physical dependence and addiction. Addiction involves compulsive cravings, inability to control use, and use despite potential harm and self-destructive behavior. Physical dependence occurs when the body becomes used to the presence of a drug. Many substances – such as nicotine, sugar, and anti-depressants – can cause physical dependence, and yet people who use these substances are not accused of being addicts.
Myth #2 – People who take pain medication are just weak and lazy.
Fact: No one gives out a prize for refusing pain medication when you need it, and people in pain usually learn this through experience. Additionally, studies have even shown that people actually underestimate their pain. So instead of being lazy, they are actually working twice as hard as healthy people just to accomplish the most basic tasks and underestimating how bad the pain is as a result.
Myth #3 – Exercise would make everything better.
Fact: Results about the benefits of exercise for people with chronic pain are mixed. While generally exercise is a positive thing, sometimes it can actually do more harm than good, depending on its location and the type of pain. This is why exercise routines should be approved by a doctor and not by random people with opinions about other people’s bodies.
Myth #4 – Pain can be overcome by just trying harder.
Fact: While there are ways to mitigate it, pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong and so it shouldn’t be ignored. Additionally, it’s not that easy for someone in pain to just try harder as many things about illness are outside their control. People who live with pain have to put in extraordinary effort just to survive in a non-disabled world. They are trying as hard as they can while trying to abide by their body’s own limits. Trying harder than their body allows can actually be damaging and lead to further injury.
Myth #5 – People in real pain have obvious physical symptoms.
Fact: Many people who experience pain do not exhibit obvious physical symptoms; their illness is invisible. In the United States, 96% of people with chronic medical conditions show no obvious signs of their illness, and 10% experience symptoms that are considered disabling. People who show obvious signs of pain are actually the exception instead of the rule.
Myth #6 – Pain is just a part of getting older.
Fact: Yes, our bodies can experience more aches and pains as we get older, but severe pain is not normal. Studies have failed over and over to find a direct relationship between pain and age. A National Center for Health Statistics report found that 29% of adults between the ages of 45 and 64 years vs 21% of those 65 or older reported pain lasting >24 hours in the month.* Additionally, some chronic pain disorders have been found to actually decrease with age.
Myth #7 – If doctors can’t find a reason for the pain, then it must be made up.
Fact: Not all pain can be easily linked to a specific injury. Sometimes pain develops for no apparent reason.  It’s not just a simple cause and effect relationship. Additionally, sometimes pain can linger even after the original cause has been addressed. Bodies are complicated and there aren’t always easy answers.
* Gibson SJ, Helme RD. Age differences in pain perception and report: a review of physiological, psychological, laboratory and clinical studies. Pain Rev. 1995;2:111–137.

About the Author:  Shelley Smith lives with fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, and ME/CFS.  She chronicles her journey through her blog ChronicMom and on her Facebook page. 

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