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Talking To Your Doctor About Pain

This article is more than 8 years old.

Chronic pain is notoriously hard to deal with — for both the sufferer seeking relief and the medical provider trying to alleviate a real problem that is sometimes difficult to pinpoint.

One critical issue, according to health reporter Judy Foreman, who just completed a book on pain, is that doctors are often woefully uneducated on the subject:

There’s a good, and obviously sad, reason why physicians know so little about pain: Medical schools don’t teach it. A major study of 117 medical schools from Johns Hopkins last year showed that out of all those years in medical school, med students get a median of only 9 hours of pain education. Even veterinary students get more. It’s high time Senators, Congressmen, medical school deans and other powers-that-be took this to heart.

Last year, hoping to gain a better understanding of how to better treat pain, a U.S. Senate committee held hearings on the topic. Now the Joint Commission, the a non-profit group that accredits hospitals and health care programs in the U.S. has created an animated video featuring little cartoon pain devils and urging patients to talk — specifically — with their doctors about pain. "Describing your pain to your doctor and nurse is important," the narrator says. "Don't tough it out." Suggestions on how to deal with pain include traditional medications, but also acupuncture or massage. (No mention of medical marijuana here.)

Other advice to patients:

--Make sure their pain is assessed by a health care provider;
--Describe the pain they are experiencing to their caregivers;

--Take appropriate steps to alleviate pain instead of trying to “tough it out;”
--Ask their doctor or other caregiver about an alternative pain treatment if medication causes side effects; and
--Inquire about other methods for treating their pain, such as physical therapy, acupuncture or massage therapy.

Readers, is chronic pain finally getting the attention it deserves? How does your doctor deal with your complaints of pain? Are you taken seriously? Prescribed medication without much discussion? Or are you made to feel you should just suck it up?

This program aired on February 28, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Rachel Zimmerman Twitter Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide.