What the pain acceptance movement misses about chronic pain

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 itYes, 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
  • insomnia/painsomnia
  • depression
  • 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.

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10 thoughts on “What the pain acceptance movement misses about chronic pain

  1. Makes me think of my old gp doc here. At the grocery store one day, I heard someone talking about something she said to them: “Nobody has ever died from pain.” Lovely. I was so GLAD I had fairly recently ditched her as our family’s gp! Same doc who refused to even run a blood test to check for low iron levels in me, saying low iron in me would be “impossible!” With my new gp, my blood has been checked as having low iron, and after four months of iron supplementation, iron levels are even lower. Obviously something (besides fibromyalgia) is very wrong, but would never have know had we stayed with that gp our family had termed, “Dr. Whackadoo.” It boggles the mind how so many doctors are opinionated with such garbage ideas.

  2. Love this! I suffer from chronic back pain. I’ve accepted this is a part of my life and that things I used to do like run marathons or sit for hours with no issue are no longer possible. However, no amount of acceptance will suffice on the days that my pain is so bad it’s like a constant screaming in my head. No amount of distraction can possibly quell that level of pain. No amazing book or moving film can compete with the pain. On those days, I need pain medication so I can tolerate the day. Also, spending a day in pain, with no relief, usually results in a boatload of tension in my body which makes whatever flare I’m having last that much longer. People who think acceptance is the answer clearly have never experienced prolonged and severe pain.

  3. Thank you so much for bringing this to light. I am sharing this everywhere I can! Great explaination of what’s truly happening, and exposes the bull sh** that’s being spread around today. Well done! People NEED to read this !

  4. Since pain meds are not very effective for me, I only get about 1/2 hr relief taking OXy, I generally don’t take anything but sometimes it gets so bad I’d settle for 1/2 hr relief. I’d love for those who say ‘nobody dies from pain’ or learn to live with it’ to experience like we do. It’s one thing to be in pain for a certain period of time knowing it will end or get better. It’s another thing to live with it non stop with no end in sight. Sometimes it seems like I can’t take it any more and get so depressed! Stop penalizing those who need it because of others who abuse it. I like the relief it brings, but don’t like the side effects, so wouldn’t take it if I didn’t have to. ‘ Dr Whackadoo’, what an appropriate name.

  5. Another thing, massage and acupuncture are great but like you say you have to be rich since insurance won’t cover it. They should be covered!!!!!!!

  6. No one who takes opioids for pain gets high from it? That’s not true. I have CRPS and most definitely take them for both reasons. Plus the pain relief naturally makes me feel happier too – I guess – I don’t even know anymore what I’m doing. I feel unfair to have been put in this place in life where I have horrendous pain but also rely on my fent for the mental boost and fuzzy feeling. I freaking hate it. Doesn’t seem like this is a friendly
    Place for a chronic pain pt like me though

    1. Getting a mental boost because you’re no longer in constant pain is not a high. That’s just pain relief. It is terrible that so many people have to rely on pain killers in order to live a semi normal life. Perhaps if we had a medical system that was interested in finding the cause of chronic pain we could lower the amount of pain killers used, but unfortunately we currently have a system that works by treating symptoms.

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