SEATTLE--It's a huge challenge in health care: managing the burden of chronic pain for millions of people while limiting the number of potentially dangerous opioid prescriptions. It can be particularly tough for people as they age.
Susan Morrow turned to Swedish Pain Services for help when she knew she needed to work toward a big vacation to celebrate retirement.
"I knew it was going to go on the calendar, and I was concerned I wouldn't have the stamina," 63-year-old Morrow said. From both knees to her lower back, she's had 22 surgeries trying to chase down her pain, and she took opioids for 12 years.
"Truthfully, after you've taken opioids for awhile, they don't treat your pain anymore. Unless you keep increasing the dose, which you can't do," Morrow said.
She found a clinic where part of pain management is working with a relaxation therapist. Pain is physical but also emotional, and suffering can come through stress and anxiety.
"Teaching them that they can control their body - separate from, in the past, they thought medicine was the only way to control their body - we get feedback from our patients that they really like that," said Dr. Steven Santos, Medical Director at Swedish Pain Services. "They're able to be more active instead of passive about how the pain's impacted them."
According to the American Chronic Pain Association, nearly one in 3 Americans has chronic pain.
Instead of suffering in silence, ask your doctor about a pain rehabilitation program. You can specifically ask about physical therapy, occupational therapy, exercise, pain psychology or other counseling, and relaxation training.
Mind body exercise like yoga or tai chi can also help. Some of the techniques are so simple, patients don't expect them to work.
Registered Nurse Becca Taylor reminds people to pace themselves. "Usually we go as much as we can until we have to stop. That really makes chronic pain much more difficult to manage," Taylor said. "Actually taking a break before you have to can give you more endurance, more consistency and the ability to do more of the things you want to do."
Like take that big vacation. Three months since finishing the program, Susan Morrow is ready for everything retirement has to offer.
Dr. Santos recommends patients check out the American Chronic Pain Association to better understand medication and non-medication treatments for chronic pain, tools to help better self-manage pain, tips on how to better communicate with healthcare provider, and resources in local communities.
The American Academy of Pain Medicine can help patients find a pain management physician and has education tips to help better understand pain, safety information about medication use, storage, and disposal. And finally, the Centers for Disease Control has information for patients more specific to opioid management, safety, guidelines, and preventing overdose.