There is a maxim that has evolved in western, orthodox medicine that goes something like this: Pain has a cause, the cause can be found, eliminate the cause to eliminate the pain. Coupled with the unearned and undeserved faith that modern medicine always has the technology to search and destroy the cause of pain, this has become deeply embedded into our health belief systems.
On the whole, it is an ideology that serves us well – whether you have sat on a drawing pin, suffered a heart attack or developed appendicitis, there is a cause for your pain and it can be successfully diagnosed and treated, with complete resolution of pain as the expected result. The problem is when a maxim (something that is generally true) starts to gain the status of an axiom (something that is so scientifically self-evident that it is true by definition), and this subtle shift has happened in the popular perception of pain, leaving a trail of confused chronic pain sufferers in its wake.
When pain first develops doctors will try their best to diagnose and treat it. Usually, either because of these attempts or despite them, the pain will resolve in a relatively short space of time. When it persists this usually results in more tests, scratching of heads, experiments with treatment (every prescription is an experiment) and referrals to clever doctors in specialist hospitals for…more tests and more experiments. Often, this too will result in the cause being found and a successful treatment – but what about when it doesn’t? What about a patient who has chronic regional pain syndrome – where all the tests are normal and there is no prospect of a magic bullet to target the cause of the pain? Or severe abdominal adhesions, where the cause is all too evident, but there is no treatment? Patients with these conditions, and many others like them, are not only left in chronic pain, but also confused and bewildered by a medical mindset that promised more than it could deliver, that seems to work for everyone else, but not for them.
Thankfully, in recent years there have been great advances in the understanding of the mechanisms underlying chronic pain, and pain management has begun to get the attention it deserves. Any changes in the attitude to pain, however, take a long time to trickle down into public consciousness. In the meantime there is a significant need to provide readable, supportive information for chronic pain sufferers so that they can move beyond popular perceptions into a greater understanding of their condition.
The world of Twitter is a great way of discovering new resources, and I have just come across two websites that are well worth a look at. The first is the Pain Toolkit which is a very user-friendly site that encourages people to take control of their situation with pain, and work with health professionals rather than rely on them. The second is an excellent self-help leaflet on chronic pain produced by Moodjuice. The Moodjuice website itself is worth a look at as well, as it covers other aspects of emotional health, and is full of very readable self-help leaflets.