According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined and costs Americans $560 to $635 billion annually in health care costs and loss of productivity.
While many people suffer from temporary acute pain, such as burning a finger, chronic pain persists over months or years. Low back pain is the most commonly reported chronic pain, followed by severe headache or migraine pain, neck pain and facial ache or pain.
For some people, chronic pain worsens in the cold, making Utah winters especially hard for them. Here, some of our local pain management experts share some thoughts on chronic pain and what you can do to combat it.
Pills aren’t the only answer
When it comes to seeking help for chronic pain, many people think they’re only effective option is taking a strong pill. According to Dr. Nate Miller of Spinal Rehab of North County in American Fork, that’s far from true.
“There are options for people who come in,” said Dr. Miller. “Not everyone has to have narcotics thrown at them to help them with pain management. Some of the other options we offer are interventional pain management, spinal decompression and laser therapy. We go after the root cause of the pain.”
Dr. Miller sees patients for all types of chronic pain, including but not limited to injuries sustained in car accidents, sports injuries and pregnancy pain.
Dr. Robin R. Ockey, a pain medicine specialist at Utah Valley Pain Management in Orem, also believes strongly in personalized, interdisciplinary treatment for pain beyond prescriptions. In an interview with KSL’s Studio 5, Ockey explained that people who suffer from chronic pain often deal with psychological issues as a result.
“The suffering often goes way beyond just the pain,” said Ockey. “There are so many consequences. There are social, vocational and marital consequences; the divorce rate is greater in people who suffer from chronic pain. They can suffer in the way they interact with their children, what they can do around the house, can they hold a job? All of these things cause emotional and psychological consequences that they have to deal with.”
Utah Valley Pain Management offers a wide variety of individualized treatments including rehabilitative therapy, interventional pain management and psychological support. Utah Valley Pain Management also offers monthly pain coping seminars, which are open to the public free of charge.
Love your gut
Problems with the digestive system can be another source of chronic pain. Dr. Vaughn Johnson of Integrative Health Associates in Provo sees many adults and children with digestive issues. These issues, Dr. Johnson says, can cause painful symptoms like cramping, gas, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea or nausea. They can also cause skin problems like eczema or acne, joint issues like arthritis or emotional and behavioral problems like depression and anxiety.
“In medicine, we call the gut the ‘second brain,'” Johnson said. “Every chemical made in the brain is also made in the gut. For example, 90% of serotonin is made in the walls of the intestines. So for many patients, their mood disorder isn’t a brain problem but an intestinal problem.”
When someone comes to Dr. Johnson for help with digestive problems, he gathers a detailed medical history of the patient, completes a physical exam and performs detailed blood tests that screen for potential causes, including food sensitivities. Once the cause is diagnosed, the remedy may include dietary counseling and supplementation.
“Many of us have unhealthy intestinal tracks due the the poor quality of food we are exposed to, chemicals in our environment and the exposure to antibiotics over the years,” Dr. Johnson said. “Science is now proving that our little ‘ecosystem’ in the intestines plays a very important role in digestion, bowel motility, food sensitivities, processing cholesterol, fighting off infections, supporting the immune system and maintaining healthy skin.”
Integrative Medical Associates is located at 3650 N. University Avenue in Provo. For more information or an appointment, call (801) 375-7100.