The World’s Most Crippling Disease
Chronic pain is arguably the most crippling disease that the world currently faces.
Let that statement sink in for a second…
For someone who’s never suffered from chronic pain, it’s hard to imagine that this statement could be anything but hyperbole. We’re regularly bombarded with information about the impact of diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And to be sure, the suffering and deaths of associated with these diseases are enormous. The point is not to downplay their impact, but rather tounderstand how awful chronic pain is relative to how little attention it is given.
The fact is that we are in a chronic pain crisis.
There are approximately 1.5 billion people on this planet that currently suffer from chronic pain. With a global population of roughly 7 billion, that equates to 1 out of 5 people worldwide.
In the US, nearly 1/3 of the population, or roughly 100 million people suffer from chronic pain. (The proportion is similar in Canada and most nations worldwide). With so many people affected, it’s normal that if someone is not suffering from chronic pain, that either a family member or close friend will be.
About 80% of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their lifetimes. Most of us have experienced extended periods of back pain, and if we’re lucky it doesn’t become permanent. This is just one example that effects many people, unfortunately there are countless others.
These huge numbers of people suffering is just one facet of the impact of this disease. The financial costs to our society are shocking in size as well.
In a 2012 study published by Health Economists from John Hopkins University, they found that the annual costs of chronic pain just in the USare as high as $635 billion per year.This study takes into account direct costs such as healthcare expenses as well as the indirect costs of lost productivity.
As far as I know a similar study has not been done for worldwide costs of chronic pain, but it is a fair assumption that the annual cost would be measured in trillions of dollars.
I could go on and on about the many different studies into chronic pain and it’s impact but ultimately if you suffer or are watching a loved one suffer from this disease you don’t need anyone to tell you how bad it is. You’re living it everyday. When you’re in pain nothing else matters, it occupies your mind and your very being. To the outside world you mostly look fine, but that is only because…
Chronic pain is largely an invisible disease.
When someone gets cancer, they will likely be given chemotherapy and nuclear irradiation. They will likely lose their hair. They might have surgery to remove the tumor, leaving a scar. Heart disease often declares itself with a catastrophic event and may require major surgery. Even an acute pain injury such as a broken or sprained ankle will elicit sympathy from those in your life. Our society has developed a collective understanding and empathy for these diseases.
Not so with chronic pain, with its fruitless investigations, dead end drugs and endless therapies that wears the patient and their support circle down. It’s hard to imagine that something as common and gross as chronic pain remains an enigma in medicine today. Our scientific sophistication should surely be able to unravel the clues of this monster. We did it for HIV/Aids and Ebola.
Turns out there is another way of looking at chronic pain.
I have committed my career to being part of the solution. Every day, in both my university-based and out-of-hospital pain clinics, we are able to help many people cure their chronic pain and go back to living normal lives. Taking those treatments that work with a patient 1-on-1 and putting them on the web is a challenge. However, getting those 1.5 billion patients out there through my clinic would be much more difficult!
After 10 years of treating chronic pain with increasing effectiveness, I’m nearly finished writing my first book which I hope will paint a completely new picture of chronic pain. This understanding allows a step by step process for diagnosing and treating your pain. While there is still much to be learned and understood, I’m at the point where we know enough to focus our efforts and effect meaningful change.
While we work on getting this information out there, we’d like to hear from you about any questions, comments, or thoughts that you have with regard to chronic pain.