By: Sarah Bond
From an evolutionary perspective, pain serves to warn us of potential injury to avoid subsequent danger. Although acute pain affords a short-term advantage, its long-term persistence can lead to significant distress and suffering. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine (2013), 100 million Americans are afflicted with chronic pain. Chronic pain can be defined as an uncomfortable feeling set off in the nervous system that persists for weeks, months, or even years. Although its onset may be attributed to injury, chronic pain can also occur without any predetermined indication.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH, 2006) found that the most common chronic pain complaints include: lower back (27 percent), head (15 percent), neck (15 percent), and facial (4 percent). Although the physical effects are evident, the psychological pain is equally burdensome for many. The implications of such physical pain can lead to emotional distress and discomfort. In turn, emotional distress can also exacerbate the experience of physical pain.
Individuals may feel as though their pain prevents them from leading a ‘normal’ life. They feel as if they cannot partake in activities they found enjoyable in the past. This withdrawal may result when chronic pain is associated with a particular movement/activity (Dahl, Wilson, & Nilsson, 2004). In fact, lower back pain is the most common cause of disability among Americans under 45-years-old (The American Academy of Pain, 2013). When people refrain from participating in what gives them a purpose in life, it can have detrimental effects upon their psychological well-being.
Treatment for chronic pain patients can be challenging. Although 41 percent of those who take over the counter medications and 58 percent of those who take prescription medications reportedly express pain relief, there are many who do not benefit from pharmacological interventions (The American Academy of Pain, 2013). Thus, it is critical to consider other options when addressing chronic pain.
Research suggests that psychotherapy is an effective method for treating chronic pain. Specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)address the psychological factors that accompany physical pain (McCracken, Vowles, & Eccleston, 2005; Dahl et al., 2004). If the emotional factors are ignored, they can exacerbate the physical pain. Similarly, if the physical factors are ignored, they can exacerbate emotional pain. Therefore, it is important that both the psychological and physical factors are treated appropriately.
If you or someone you know suffers from chronic pain, professional support is available. If you are in the San Diego area and would like to speak to a professional at CSAM who specializes in CBT and ACT, please contact us.
Dahl, J., Wilson, K.G., & Nilsson, A. (2004). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and the treatment of persons at risk for long-term disability resulting from stress and pain symptoms: A preliminary randomized trial. Behavior Therapy, 35, 785-801.
Institute of Medicine. (2011). Report from the Committee on Advancing Pain Research, Care, and Education: Relieving pain in America, a blueprint for transforming prevention, care, education and research. The National Academies Press. Retrieved from http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13172&page=1.
McCracken, L.M., Vowles, K.E., & Eccleston, C. (2005). Acceptance-based treatment for persons with complex, long standing chronic pain: a preliminary analysis of treatment outcome in comparison to a waiting phase. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 43(10), 1335-1346.
National Centers for Health Statistics. (2006). Chart Book on Trends in the Health of Americans 2006, Special Feature: Pain. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus06.pdf.
The American Academy of Pain Medicine. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.painmed.org/patientcenter/facts_on_pain.aspx.