Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts more than three months. It can be caused by injury, disease, or chronic medical conditions. The interesting thing about chronic pain is that we are constantly learning new things about it. And yet it seems the more we study it, the less we really know.
The inverse relationship between research and knowledge is rooted in the fact that study creates more questions. Furthermore, it creates questions faster than we answer them. That leaves us in a position of knowing that chronic pain exists but not knowing how to best deal with it.
Millions of Suffer from It
A research study recently published by the Pain journal suggests that more than 50 million Americans might suffer from chronic pain. Other studies have shown similar results. But the numbers have an inherent weakness: they rely strictly on individual reports.
In other words, the 2021 study indicates that 50.2 million respondents “reported pain on most days or every day.” That is a pretty ambiguous statement. It doesn’t necessarily indicate that the same number suffer from chronic pain lasting more than 30 days.
Furthermore, there is very little research digging into the types of pain people report. A person reporting pain nearly every day may have a single source of pain. But he might also have multiple sources. He might have a headache today and pain from a pulled muscle tomorrow. He may injure his back the day after and experience pain for several weeks.
Pain Perceptions Vary
Another thing research studies are unable to quantify is individual pain perception. According to the Texas pain specialists at Lone Star Pain Medicine, patients perceive and tolerate pain differently. They see some patients at their Weatherford, Texas clinic who require only minor treatments to deal with pain. They see others requiring more aggressive treatments for the exact same conditions.
It stands to reason that different thresholds for pain would affect how people in a survey respond to certain questions. Therefore, it also stands to reason that some patients reporting chronic pain do not really suffer from it. Likewise, there is some measure of under-reporting due to the fact that other people prefer to not discuss how they feel.
All of this is to say that research studies based exclusively on patient reporting cannot necessarily be trusted as being 100% accurate. There is far too much room for misreporting and misunderstanding.
Treatments Also Vary
The limited knowledge we have regarding chronic pain limits the treatments we can offer. At Lone Star, injection treatments designed to block pain are fairly common. The clinic has recently begun offering limited regenerative medicine treatments as well. But none of the treatments the clinic offers is 100% reliable. No single treatment is appropriate for every condition, either.
For as long as most of us can remember, chronic pain has been treated with pain medication that either masks pain signals or reduces pain by temporarily reducing inflammation. Medications have their place. But their inherent weakness is that they do not really get to the root of the problem. And in the end, that is the real problem.
We know what pain is. We know its purpose in a biological sense. Where we lack knowledge is in our ability to eliminate pain by directly addressing its root causes. In addition, the more we learn about pain itself, the less we know about why people experience in differently. This only limits our ability to treat it effectively. It is one of those medical dichotomies that drives researchers and medical providers crazy.