A recent University of Virginia study found that racial bias in pain assessment may result in African Americans being undertreated for their chronic pain. This finding, coupled with the Center for Disease Control's new opioid prescribing guidelines, suggests African Americans and their practitioners must be their own best advocates for diagnosing and properly treating pain. One in three Americans live with chronic pain, according to the Institute of Medicine's 2011 report, Relieving Pain in America, and the causes range from injury to diseases, including cancer, arthritis, heart disease and more.
September is Pain Awareness Month, a time when health professionals and organizations - including nurse practitioners - focus our patient communities on the importance of diagnosing, treating and managing their chronic pain. As a nurse practitioner who has worked with thousands of patients to root out the cause of chronic pain and treat it head on, I want to offer some concrete strategies to African Americans living with chronic pain.
1) Focus on the Underlying Cause
Your pain doesn't come out of nowhere; there's something causing it. Your health care provider can help you identify the cause of your pain, and your health depends on it. By visiting with your nurse practitioner or other health care provider, you can partner to make a diagnosis and start a treatment plan to address your pain - and the underlying condition.
2) Communicate With Your Provider
In order to treat your condition, your health care provider needs to know as much as possible about how your pain is affecting you. That's why the American Association of Nurse Practitioners recommends patients keep a daily health log to monitor their pain symptoms, and communicate the frequency and impact of those symptoms on their daily lives. When it comes to treating complex conditions, knowledge is power to both patients and their health care providers.
3) Consider the Potential of Non-Drug Treatments
In addition to pain medication, chronic pain can be eased by non-drug treatments. The Cleveland Clinic recommends strategies from light to moderate exercise, acupuncture, massage and spinal cord stimulation, based upon the cause of chronic pain and the patient's symptoms. The American Chronic Pain Association also has a resource guide that lists therapeutic exercises for managing your chronic pain.
4) Help Your Brain Combat Pain
Studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy can help patients develop patterns of thinking and behavior that can help reduce chronic pain. Fear-avoidance training can help you overcome fear of re-injury or reaggravating your pain, which might limit beneficial exercise.
5) Stand with people living with chronic pain
Chronic pain is real, and people living with it deserve compassion and care - not labels. Communicating with others who live with chronic pain helps to connect you with a larger community and to remind you that you are not alone. Patient communities like the US Pain Foundation advocates for people living with chronic pain to reduce labels and stigma while expanding access to effective treatments for chronic pain.
Your prescription for reducing pain begins with these five steps and a strong partnership with your health care provider. This September, take five and call me in the morning.