Chronic pain affects more Americans than any other medical condition. It is estimated that more than fifty million people in the United States are presently suffering from a chronically painful condition and that one in three Americans will suffer from chronic pain at some point in their lives. It is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and its cost in lost productivity each year tops the $100 billion mark.
What is chronic pain, and what factors lead to pain becoming chronic? Loosely defined, chronic pain is any pain that does not subside after an illness or injury has healed. When such pain is left unchecked, nerve fibers become trained to send pain messages to the brain at a faster rate and with more intensity. The result is a brain that becomes more sensitive to these signals, making the pain feel worse. Living with chronic pain takes a toll on every aspect of one’s daily life. Productivity at work suffers and there is less gratification from hobbies and other interests. Personal relationships are negatively affected because of increased irritability and a higher rate of depression among chronic pain sufferers.
Recent data sheds light on the difficulties surrounding effective pain management. Most chronic pain sufferers report use of medication (both prescription and over the counter), but less than half of those using medication consider it effective in managing their pain. Taking into consideration that pain can have an emotional component, drug therapy alone may not be enough to effectively control the problem. Recent studies have shown that massage can be an effective addition to pain management therapy because it addresses both the physical and emotional components of pain. Although the research has been limited, the data most strongly supports the use of massage to treat lower back pain, shoulder pain, headaches and fibromyalgia.