Anyone who lives with chronic pain is aware of the backlash against opioids for chronic pain and the treatment of pain in general. This backlash has emerged because of the so called “opioid crisis” which puts the blame on people in pain instead of addicts who abuse the system. Some doctors are now taking patients off their medication cold turkey because of the fear of losing their license, and some just because they now have an excuse to no longer deal with anyone in pain. Whatever the reason, a new movement has started that doctors are calling “pain acceptance.” With this idea comes the removal of the pain scale that was once used to evaluate patient’s pain. It is being removed with the excuse that pain is now no longer relevant to a patient’s healing or quality of life. If a patient is in pain, it’s not because there is something wrong, it’s because they are not being accepting of the pain.
Pain acceptance means that patients are being told by their doctors to live with pain. This could mean days, months, years, or the rest of their lives, the length of time is not considered relevant. Pain acceptance doctors have become so concerned with addiction to pain killers (despite the fact that addicts don’t get them legally, and more and more addicts are turning to heroin as prescription pills are too hard to get) that they no longer see the need to treat pain. Instead they propose that patients stop focusing on the pain. This movement clearly comes from people who have never experienced chronic pain, and here are a few things that they are missing:
People in pain don’t get high from taking opioids
When you take pain killers because your body has physical pain you do not get a high. The only thing you get is a dulling of the pain. The pain doesn’t even go away, it goes from “I want to die” to “this pain isn’t going to kill me.” Only people who have lived with constant pain can understand the difference between those two levels of pain.
I personally only take pain medicine when my pain level reaches an 8 or 9 on the pain scale. If I don’t wait too long to take pain medicine I can get my pain level down to a 5 or 6. If I wait until my pain level is so high my body goes into crisis mode, I can only get my pain level down to a 7 or 8. Which is one reason why it’s so important for me to have access to pain medication. When the pain level is that high my body is far beyond “accepting my pain.” If I don’t have access to pain medication my body practically shuts down and I’m bedridden for weeks at a time.
People in pain have already accepted it and have implemented strategies to keep from focusing on their pain
When you live with chronic pain you have to reach a level of acceptance. Sometimes it takes years, but after being told by dozens of doctors that there is no cure, eventually you learn to accept that pain is your life now. Because the pain never goes away, you learn to develop coping strategies in an attempt to stop focusing on it. Yes, the very thing suggested by doctors in the pain acceptance movement has already been implemented in the lives of every single person who lives with chronic pain.
I’ve personally written many times about strategies that help cope with pain, and help distract from it. These are some of the most popular posts on my website, and they are also the most frequently discussed topics in every pain group I’ve ever been in. People who are on opioids for chronic pain regularly implement strategies such taking epsom salt baths, using heating pad, practicing gentle yoga and meditation, visiting the chiropractor (if your insurance covers it, getting massages (if you’re rich), getting acupuncture (if you’re rich), and buying pain devices such as Quell or TENS.
Are these the actions of people who are not accepting their pain? Would people be wasting all their money on coping strategies if they haven’t accepted their pain on some level? Would my holiday gift guide full of non medication options for dealing with chronic pain be as popular as it is?
Chronic pain has severe side effects
Pain acceptance doesn’t mean the consequences of a body being in constant agony go away. Pain has side effects, and to ignore them is dangerous and negligent. Here’s just a few things that people with chronic pain experience:
- brain fog
- reduced social life
- inability to work
- loss of energy
The biggest side effect of long term chronic pain is suicide. The suicide rate of those with chronic pain is roughly twice what it is for people without chronic pain. As the CDC guidelines about opioids came out a few years ago and as prescriptions for pain medication have been reduced drastically, not a day goes by without someone with chronic pain committing suicide because their medication was taken away. Often their medication was taken away cold turkey and they can no longer live with pain. I dare any doctor to say that these people just needed to accept their pain and get over it.
There is so much more to a life with chronic pain than just accepting it and finding distractions. The body is a complicated thing and just because a doctors says to get over it doesn’t mean someone can simply obey the order. The long term consequences of this movement have yet to play out fully, but at some point the doctors who stand by this strategy are going to be held responsible for their negligence. No one deserves to live out their life in constant physical agony while simultaneously being blamed for not getting over it.