Dr. Danielle Ofri, an associate professor of medicine at NYU, shares her stories as a primary care physician and writer who has been analyzing the healing power of connecting with patients.
More and more, forward-thinking physicians are viewing chronic pain not simply as a symptom, but rather as its own unique disease.
Chronic pain has become a leading cause of disability and a major public health problem. Healthcare providers are prescribing opioids at an alarming rate.
Pain perception is designed to help us recognize threats to our survival. The perception of pain, of all varieties, is actually created in our brain as a result of stimuli, which can come from a number of different sources such as nerve cells in the skin, perceptions from sensory inputs (hearing, smelling, tasting, etc.) or even from memories.
Pain is something we all share. Virtually everyone can recall minute details around a painful event, even if it happened decades ago. Our brains are wired for this, with a strong emotional component, which makes some pain literally “hard to forget.”
In many ways, your brain is similar to your computer's central processing unit, or CPU. It’s where all sensory inputs from the body are received, interpreted and stored, and it gives instructions on what to do with this information.
Pain is a subjective experience that feeds on both psychological and emotional elements. We each view and respond to pain differently. This makes pain exceedingly susceptible to placebo responses, and pain is the arena in which the placebo effect has been most extensively researched.
For the millions of people who suffer with persistent pain that alters their ability to work and enjoy life, the pain, treatment failures, and loss of hope result in a destructive cycle.
With chronic pain, the goal of treatments is to ease pain and increase function, so the person can resume daily activities and maximize enjoyment and productivity in their lives. Patients and their healthcare providers have multiple options for the treatment of pain. Some have more benefit for certain people than others.
By helping people recognize their ability and their role in healing themselves, we move away from the unidirectional model of "receiving care" towards a more effective bidirectional model of getting help and taking control and responsibility for getting better.
The efficacy of opioids as maintenance treatment of chronic noncancer pain is not controversial. Research to this question suggests that opioids don’t help people with chronic pain like they can those with acute pain, and can even increase sensitivity to chronic pain.
The huge advances in brain imaging techniques in the last few decades have shifted our appreciation of chronic pain conditions and has opened the door for new and exciting treatment strategies.
We are all familiar with the sense of hope when we experience it but hope isn’t concrete, easily measurable, or available in pill form (not yet anyway). Regardless, if you or someone you care about suffers from chronic pain, understanding and tapping into the power of hope can be a game changer.