Study: Patients with chronic pain struggle with physician, self-doubt

Results from a recent study found individuals with chronic musculoskeletal pain may benefit from redefining what is a normal level of pain for them and building a new relationship with the body, rather than trying to maintain or recreate their lifestyle before the pain.

The study also suggested individuals with chronic musculoskeletal pain often do not feel their physicians believe their pain is real.

Researchers searched electronic bibliographic databases, journals and reference lists and found 77 qualitative studies that explored adults’ experience of chronic non-malignant musculoskeletal pain.

They found individuals with chronic musculoskeletal pain “struggle to affirm self and construct self over time; find an explanation for the pain; negotiate the health-care system while feeling compelled to stay in it; be valued and believed; and find the right balance between sick and well and hiding and showing pain.”

However, the researchers noted some people were able to cope with their pain by listening to their body rather than fighting it. Some shared their feelings of pain with others, becoming part of a larger community and not as isolated in their feelings of pain. Individuals took greater command of their condition by acknowledging the pain was a part of their lives, rather than focusing on diagnosis and cure, and becoming knowledgeable about their pain.

“The qualitative studies in this meta-ethnography revealed that people with chronic MSK pain still do not feel believed. This has clear implications for clinical practice,” the researchers wrote. “Our model suggests that central to the relationship between patient and practitioner is the recognition of the patient as a person whose life has been deeply changed by pain. …Our model suggests that feeling valued is not simply an adjunct to the therapy, but central to it.”

“Our goal has to be to use this information to improve our understanding of their condition and, consequently, the quality of care we can provide,” said Kate Seers, PhD, professor of health research at Warwick Medical School and director of the Royal College of Nursing Research Institute, who collaborated on the study. “Having patients feel that they have to legitimize their pain, and the sense that doctors might not believe them, is something that should really concern us as health care professionals.”

For more information:

Toye F. HS&DR. 2013;doi:10.3310/hsdr01120.

Disclosure: Seers has no relevant financial disclosures.

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