One in three Americans — more than 100 million people — live with chronic pain, and some 1.5 million adults have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The cost to people living with pain and to society, both in direct healthcare expenses and lost productivity, now exceeds $500 billion per year. These are staggering statistics — and ones that ring true for many of the people with rheumatoid arthritis whom I’ve seen in my nurse practitioner practice.
As a person living with pain, you deserve answers, treatment, and support. Although chronic RA pain is complex, you and your health practitioner can, in many cases, create a plan that improves your quality of life. If you’re experiencing pain or know someone who is, consider these four steps.
1. Listen to Your Own Body
The causes of chronic pain are as widespread as the number of Americans experiencing it and can range from injury to disease, including rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and heart disease. Pain is a warning sign from your body, and you owe it to yourself to get answers. A visit to your healthcare provider is the first step in identifying the root cause of your pain. If you’ve been living with pain for some time, it can take a toll on your psyche as well as your body. Partner with your nurse practitioner or other provider to make a diagnosis and start a treatment plan to address both the physical and emotional aspects of your pain — and the underlying condition.
2. Communicate With Your Provider
In order to treat chronic pain, your healthcare provider needs to know as much as possible about how it’s affecting your daily life. My colleagues at the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and I recommend that people who have chronic pain keep a daily health log of their pain symptoms and sleep patterns to share with a care provider. Your health log should provide:
- Details of your pain level at different times during the day (using a 1-10 scale)
- The physical location of pain in the body
- The frequency of your pain
- Information about medication you’re taking, or alternative therapies you’re using
- Impact of pain on your ability to engage in the activities of daily living
Depending upon your preference, you can keep a log on paper or use one of the many available apps for smart phones, such as Pain Diary & Community Catch My Pain (free, iPhone, Android) or My Pain Diary: Chronic Pain & Symptom Tracker($4.99, iPhone, Android). Make sure you can share results with your provider.
3. Consider All Treatment Options
There are many treatments now available that didn’t exist several years ago. Beyond radiofrequency ablation, pain shots, and over-the-counter and prescription pain medications, there are nondrug treatments that have been shown to ease chronic pain. Depending on the cause and symptoms of the pain, the Cleveland Clinic recommends strategies such as light to moderate exercise, acupuncture, massage, and spinal cord stimulation. The American Chronic Pain Association provides a list of therapeutic exercises and treatments for managing chronic pain.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can also help patients develop patterns of thinking and behavior that can help reduce chronic pain.
4. Draw Strength From Others
Communicating with others who live with chronic pain can help you connect with a larger community and help to remind you that you are not alone in your pain. Communities like the U.S. Pain Foundation advocate for people living with chronic pain to reduce labels and stigma while expanding access to effective treatments.
Chronic pain may be part of your life, but it shouldn’t be a life sentence. Join with others to talk about your pain and the solutions to combat it at CreakyJoints, the Arthritis Foundation, and HealthBoards.com.
Your healthcare provider is your partner in health, and together, we can fight chronic pain.