1) Pain is rarely “all in your head.”
People in pain are often treated as if their pain is actually made up or greatly exaggerated. While it is true that pain is subjective (people simply perceive pain differently) and some people may report pain because they have other agendas, for the vast majority the pain is real and present. It is not made up.
The problem is that chronic pain is often caused by anatomical problems that are difficult or impossible to diagnose using standard medical tests, and pain cannot be diagnosed like other medical problems (such as a broken bone that can be seen on an X-ray).
Fortunately, most in the medical community are now trying to understand and appreciate that chronic pain is real and needs to be treated and managed differently.
2) Pain is not the only problem—it breeds other health problems.
Thoughts and emotions related to chronic pain also can both aggravate and alleviate the pain. For example, depression, which is a serious disease, can worsen the pain. Sleep problems, again caused by the pain, can also make the pain worse. And increased pain usually leads to increased sleep problems.
Often all conditions related to the pain need to be treated concurrently in order for the patient to get any relief.
3) Pain is deeply personal.
Everyone experiences and expresses pain differently. Any two people with the exact same health condition are likely to feel and express their pain in unique ways depending on a number of factors.
Newer chronic pain theories now have physiological explanations for how and why people experience pain differently.
Two people can have the same type of herniated disc, but one feels only slight discomfort and the other feels intense burning pain that is unresponsive to conventional treatment. It is also not uncommon that no anatomical cause of the pain can be detected.
Why is this point important? It means that chronic pain often needs to be treated as the primary problem, which is different than the conventional medical approach of identifying and treating the underlying problem causing the pain.
4) Chronic pain is its own beast.
Unlike acute pain, which functions as a warning signal (e.g. I just stepped on a nail—better move my foot!), chronic pain does not have any useful function. It just is.
Often, chronic pain is caused by nerves that continue to send pain signals to the brain. When dealing with chronic pain, one of the most frustrating things is that there is nothing to “fix.” It just exists in your body.
5) Chronic pain is LONELY.
After awhile, many people with chronic pain—especially pain that is caused by a condition that cannot be seen—begin to feel isolated.
Here the Internet has done a world of good helping people in pain connect with others in similar situations and find a supportive peer group through online communities of people in similar situations.
There is a post about this on our forums: Letter to Normals from a Person with Chronic Pain & The Spoon Theory.