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8 Myths About Chronic Pain (and one absolute truth)

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Have you ever broken a bone or undergone surgery? Your doctor may prescribe you some medication and you are given steps to follow for recovery - usually 6-8 weeks for most injuries to the muscles, tendons, or bones. 

But what if, despite doing everything right, you still have pain many months later?

At this point, pain is a part of your everyday life. It strikes you at work, affecting your job performance. It’s still there when you get home, interfering with your personal life. It might even interfere with your ability to sleep or participate in the recreational activities that bring you joy.  

New studies on what turns short-term pain - the kind you get when you cut your finger or sprain your ankle - into long-term chronic pain are creating a new framework for how we both view and treat pain. 

Unfortunately, outdated information and old treatment techniques lead to some of the most damaging myths about chronic pain. Let's set a few of these straight, so we can gain some power over these life-altering conditions.

Myth 1: You look normal, so you can't be in pain. 

Chronic pain doesn't show up like acute pain with its redness, heat, and swelling. In fact, there is usually no visible sign.  People often push through this kind of pain and sometimes don't even talk about it. 

Just because someone looks "healthy" doesn't mean they are not in pain.  The pain may be invisible, but the distress it causes is very real.  

Myth 2: It's all in your head. 

Even when a true source of the pain can't be found, don't mean it isn't there.  The most difficult to diagnose conditions are fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Unfortunately, chronic pain is often left untreated because the reason for the pain can't be found. 

Some of our clients have even told: "it's just in your head".  This is the farthest from the truth. It is a legitimate medical condition and usually can be treated effectively.  

Myth 3: Pain means you haven't healed.  

An injury does not have to occur for you to have pain - and if you did have an injury, the persistence of pain does not mean the injury didn't heal.  You didn't do anything wrong!

Pain is chronic when it persists past 3 months - past the normal time for tissue to heal.  In this case, the brain and nervous system are still sending pain signals.  This can be due to your body being stuck in alarm mode or healing didn't occur properly (ie scar tissue formed or tissue is misaligned). 

Myth 4: Pain means I should rest and not move.

After an acute injury, say an ankle sprain, you may need to back off your activity or rest for a period.  Research shows this is actually harmful when it comes to chronic pain.  

Gentle exercise and movement provide many positive benefits including keeping you strong and mobile, releasing endorphins to decrease pain, and calms a sensitive nervous system.  The movement will help you feel more confident and allow you to return to pain-free life without fear of injury.  

Myth 5: An MRI will tell you the cause of the pain.

An x-ray, MRI, or CT scan will not necessarily tell you the source of your pain.  In fact, they are often more misleading than they are helpful.  

The process of bones and joints wearing down begins in our twenties and will show up on imaging studies.  Research shows this is poorly correlated with pain though.  Some people have very unattractive MRIs but no pain and others have normal reports with agonizing pain.  We must evaluate a person's specific symptoms, movement, and response to find their trigger. 

Myth 6: Chronic pain sufferers just have to tough it out.

Although the pain has been around for a long time, it doesn't make it an "incurable disease". In fact, those that try to be stoic and "tough it out" are more likely to put off much-needed help. This delay in care can allow problems to get much worse before they are treated.  

Persistence, hard work, and a knowledgeable team of specialists can work with you through the pain and to the other side of it.   It won't be an overnight quick fix though . . . don't let anyone promise you that. 

Myth 7: Pain is an inevitable part of aging. 

The wear and tear of a life well lived may result in a few aches and pain.  However, a healthy person should not expect to wake up each day with pain.  It is not inevitable, and we want to change that mindset so it doesn't become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Pain is not the same as gray hair and shouldn't just be covered up with pain medication.  You shouldn't settle for stiff, painful joints.  You deserve to feel your best at any age. 

Myth 8: Medication or surgery is the only option to treat pain.

It's true that medication may be necessary (at the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible period of time) for someone with pain to regain their mobility.  As for surgery though, there are very few pain conditions where this is the only option. 

We know that pain involved the brain and spinal cord, in addition to the body part where the pain is being experienced.  Right now, there is no surgery or medication to effectively treat all those systems.  But there are natural, hands-on, treatment techniques to quite the nervous system and heal pain.  

The Truth is . . . Knowledge is Power. 

Don't let these myths prevent you from healing.  And don't let misinformation lead to a dependency on medication or unnecessary procedures that don't often work for chronic pain.

As we better understand pain and how it affects our bodies, we can start to gain better control over it.  As healthcare practitioners, we aim to develop a personalized treatment plan that incorporates education, natural treatment techniques, and healthy movement practices.  

A short (no obligation) 20-minute conversation with one of our specialist Doctors of Physical Therapy can help you make a better decision about your health and pain treatment.  Request a FREE phone consultation (you don't even have to leave your couch just yet) by clicking the button below.