Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! How to Relieve Chronic Pain
A National Epidemic
One afternoon in 1997, Janine Willis hurt herself pruning an apple tree in her backyard. "I fell only a few feet but I landed on my butt on the cement, which sent shock waves through my whole spine," says Willis, now 44, of Castro Valley, California. What should have resulted in some bruises wound up reawakening an old back injury and catapulting Willis into a world of agonizing pain. "I felt as though I was reentering a nightmare," she says.
Spinal fusion surgery had healed her back pain the first time, but this time there was no visible damage and no surgical fix to try. For the next several years she shuttled from doctor to doctor, trying everything -- pills, shots, physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, biofeedback. "The pain response in my body just wouldn't turn off," says Willis. Sometimes she had burning, searing spasms in her spine; other times, an immense pressure at the base of her skull. She was in a narcotized haze from heavy-duty painkillers much of the day. She tossed and turned at night; she didn't have the energy to parent her two children, now 16 and 14; her husband took over the chores; and she spent most days curled up on the couch with an ice pack. "The pain sucked my life away," she says. "I felt like I was circling the drain."
More than 50 million Americans suffer from chronic or recurrent pain. It's the nation's leading cause of disability and costs employers more than $60 billion a year in productivity. It can rob a person of his or her ability to work, sleep soundly, have satisfying personal relationships, or enjoy the simplest of pleasures. Yet only one in four sufferers will receive proper treatment, according to the American Pain Foundation.
"Pain remains one of the most undertreated ailments in society and very often pain complaints are swept under the rug," says Mark Allen Young, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist in Baltimore, author of Women and Pain, and former editor-in-chief of the Journal of Practical Pain Management. That's because both doctors and patients tend to dismiss pain as the natural result of an injury or illness, which will end when they recover.
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