Chronic pain has not always been a hot topic. Although an estimated 126 million people in the U.S. suffer from chronic pain, many have been hesitant to discuss their usually “invisible illness” for fear of being misunderstood or dismissed as overreacting. Much of that has changed, though, as research has grown on chronic pain, and national media outlets are starting to offer more complete coverage on chronic pain conditions and their treatments.
ABC News has been one of the front runners of chronic pain coverage.
In March of 2015 they aired a story on the MELT method of chronic pain relief. This method uses specific techniques to engage the fascia of the body. Fascia is the thin connective tissue that covers all of the muscles in the body, essentially connecting every system in the body. Any dysfunction in the fascia could theoretically lead to pain or illness in any connected area.
Therapist and bestselling author Sue Hitzmann is the developer of this method and believes that this pain-free technique can revolutionize the way we treat chronic pain:
“To MELT means you are empowering yourself to get out of chronic pain. If you compress or pull on connective tissue for short periods of time in very specific ways, you can re-hydrate it. That is one of the key parts of melt, how to juice back up the tissue, how to stimulate it and organize it.”
In July, ABC continued their coverage of chronic pain by investigating why it happens to some but not others. Their investigation highlighted the case of Rhiannon Bannenberg, one of the over 425,000 Australians who suffer from chronic pain. The story highlights the emotional issues that accompany chronic illness, including feelings of isolation. They also looked at what types of new treatments are being studied, including using genetics to control acute pain before it becomes chronic.
Bannenberg’s case highlights one segment of the population that is often neglected in chronic pain coverage: children.
In July, CNN reported on the dangers of chronic pain in children in a short video that pointed out how prevalent childhood chronic pain actually is. Dr. John Stork of pediatric pain management at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital believes that as many as 20% of children may be suffering from chronic pain:
“It’s a relatively common problem [among children]…whether it’s chronic abdominal pain, chronic headaches…there are all sorts of different types. With chronic pain you often can’t find any specific reason for it….a lot of it may be psychologically generated, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is still real pain.”
An article on the Huffington Post website highlighted this same issue: taking chronic pain treatment seriously, even after an injury is healed and the pain seems largely psychological. Chronic pain in children affects the entire family and has impacts that last far beyond childhood. Children in chronic pain miss more school and experience a lower quality of life. Improved recognition and diagnosis of pain in children can help to alleviate these impacts.
Increased media coverage has not only brought the number of children suffering from chronic pain into the light; it has also elaborated on the startling number of people in the U.S. who experience chronic pain. Previous estimates of 100 million people have risen to 126 million, a number that is still just an estimate. This may be low, but as more awareness grows patients may feel more empowered to discuss their pain with their doctors.
It is not just patients who are learning; doctors are also getting educated on chronic pain and chronic pain treatments, not just from research bulletins that deal with numbers and data but also in listening to patients’ stories. In a recent article from The Guardian, Anthony Chuter of Pain UK, a charity that works to build awareness and educates physicians and healthcare providers, points out that listening to patients and hearing what they are saying are crucial steps in chronic pain diagnosis and treatment:
“We want those who work in health and social care to take chronic pain more seriously. GPs are good at handing out painkillers, but people get stuck in the system as they are passed from pillar to post. You don’t hear, ‘I can’t find anything wrong with you’, any more, but you get, ‘I can’t find anything I can help you with’, instead. You start losing hope – depression goes hand in hand with chronic pain, and it’s easy to see why.”
Much of this new awareness of chronic pain has been due to larger media outlets like The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Huffington Post offering an outlet for bloggers to share their stories and compile recent research, tips, and tricks for dealing with chronic pain. Blogger Erica Siegel shared the 15 things no one tells you about chronic pain as a 20-something (including that you can actually experience chronic pain as a 20-something!) on the Huffington Post, and Terrence McCoy interviewed the inventor of a revolutionary chronic pain treatment in the Washington Post.
This is not to say that all news coverage has been positive.
Blogger and U.S. Pain Foundation ambassador Emily Ullrich points out the often biased reporting in news coverage, especially when it comes to new prescription pain medications:
“For example, while an article discussing diabetes or blood pressure medication will refer to them as ‘medicine,’ an article about pain medications will often refer to them as ‘drugs.’ That places a negative connotation on the reader’s perception of ALL pain medications as being categorically the same as street drugs.”
Whether the news is good or bad, media coverage of chronic pain has increased this year. What stories have caught your attention?