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What Coronavirus Is Teaching Us About Chronic Pain

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Chronic pain is not something doctors like to talk about merely to increase patient numbers. It is not something the medical industry has glommed on to as a means of driving revenue. Chronic pain is a very real problem for tens of millions of people. And in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, some patients already dealing with chronic pain are finding life almost unbearable thanks to pandemic restrictions and their own fears.

The CDC estimated back in 2018 that as many as 50 million American adults suffered from some form of chronic pain. That accounts for just over 20% of the adult population in this country. Furthermore, the CDC suggested that pain is one of the most common reasons adults seek out medical care. It is no joke.

Now, imagine someone dealing with chronic pain not having access to a primary care physician due to coronavirus restrictions. This past spring, this is exactly what was happening all across the country. Primary care offices and pain management clinics were shutting down almost entirely. Only patients with emergencies were being seen. We are now only beginning to see the results.

Failing to Treat Pain

Pain specialists at Lone Star Pain Medicine in Weatherford, Texas explain that pain is almost always a symptom of an underlying condition. Indeed, pain is a warning mechanism that something is wrong. Failing to address pain creates consequences of its own, including an underlying condition being allowed to worsen.

Data shows that people suffering from chronic pain also have the highest chances of comorbidity. Pain left untreated can interfere with the ability to function at a normal level. It can lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. At the very least, untreated pain frequently contributes to a loss of quality of life and a subsequent increase in pain.

How many people suffering from chronic pain were allowed to get worse at the peak of the coronavirus crisis? Probably too many to count. But let’s not stop there. How many patients continue to decline medical care because they are too afraid to visit a doctor?

Chronic Pain Doesn’t Just Go Away

It is easy to look at someone suffering from pain and think that the pain will go away by itself. That may be true for some causes of minor pain, like headaches, but it is rarely the case for chronic pain. By definition, chronic pain is long-lasting. It persists over time because its root cause persists. It doesn’t just go away on its own.

One of the problems we have created through coronavirus restrictions is a mindset that pain can be ignored if there are no other visible signs of distress. How have we created this mindset? By creating such an atmosphere of fear that people think the risk of contracting coronavirus is the most serious risk they face.

Months of incessantly reporting coronavirus statistics and warning of the dangers of developing COVID-19 have led people to believe that the coronavirus pandemic is the absolute worst thing to happen since the Spanish flu. Meanwhile, people suffering from chronic pain and its underlying conditions are not getting the treatments they need.

Chronic pain is very real. So are the conditions that cause it. Knowing what we know about pain, it is unreasonable to expect people to forego treatment out of fear of a virus with an extremely high survival rate. If we continue to push coronavirus as one of the most severe infections a person can suffer, we will simultaneously encourage people who need treatment for other conditions to avoid it. How is that good?

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