How A Medical Diagnosis Actually Hurts People With Chronic Pain
Let us start with the definition of diagnosis:
“The identification of the nature of an illness or other problem by examination of the symptoms.”
Basically, it's an identification or description. That's it. The problem is: no two explanations are alike. What do we mean? Well, if you were to describe an elephant, you would describe it differently than I would. We're different and we choose to use different words to describe exactly the same thing. A medical diagnosis is no different, it's just the way one person would describe what's going on with you.
Now some guesses are more educated than others. Take a breast cancer diagnosis, for example — no lump or mass on the mammogram means it's safe to say you're going to be fine. However, when compared to an MRI from a patient with low back pain, the scan may show nothing, or slight wear and tear from aging. But, they may walk away with a diagnosis of ‘Degenerative Disc Disease.' And that's just a SUPER SCARY way to say “Your discs are getting older”. *eyeroll emoji*
But it's what doctors are good at; labeling the things that may be wrong with us.
The next thing they do is look into ways they can fix it. They may look into physical or chiropractic therapy. And if that doesn't work pills, shots, and procedures are in their future when the leading cause of their back pain was most likely a weak, tight or spasming muscle that requires some much-needed attention.
Here is the dilemma.
A medical diagnosis can save your life when its something with clear and defined symptoms like breast cancer, which has clear and defined parameters. Diagnosing chronic pain, on the other hand, can be like a doctor trying to run a test on why your fingerprint is unique. It just is, and there's only guesses as to why.
A quote from the book Chronicles of Pain asks “In what part of the brain does beauty lie, find that out and you will find pain right next door.” eluding to pain's subjectivity. For instance, a beautiful song to you can be an annoying noise to the next person. Pain is just as subjective, what is excruciating for some is just another day for others. Good luck trying to convey that to your general physician.
A medical diagnosis of Degenerative Disc Disease sounds way worse than saying you have a tight QL muscle, doesn't it?
So then why is this commonplace? We haven't changed the system, yet!
The first options usually provided should actually be the last resort. Prescriptions and shots to numb the pain, or procedures and surgeries claiming to fix it should be tried after everything else has failed.
Leaving your visit with a piece of paper saying Degenerative Disc Disease and a prescription for an NSAID is going to lead you down a certain path. Compare that to seeing a specialist who says your pain is being caused by sitting too much, poor posture and a spasming back muscle, all of which can be corrected through movement. This leads you down a very bright, exciting future of recovery.
What's Wrong With Medical Diagnoses?
Strengthening, stretching, and releasing are the terms we should be confronted with when we meet with our physicians when that shoulder, knee or back pain is getting a little more than you candle on your own.
So how come the healthcare system is so bad at diagnosing pain? And, if you feel like you've never been misdiagnosed, how do you know what we're saying is true?
The easiest example is the opioid crisis. Drug overdose is the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50. 66% of those deaths can be traced to prescription opioids.
Medical professionals, when dealing with chronic pain should be very careful with the power they have in the ability to trigger the cascading effect of negative thoughts and emotions caused by a diagnosis. It is not on purpose. Most primary care physicians lack pain management training. So much so that students in veterinary schools spend five times as many education hours focused on pain management as students in medical schools. According to an interview with Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) regarding the need for more pain management training in US medical schools.
In 2011, a study found that US medical schools average 9 teaching hours on pain and its management, compared to a median of 19.5 hours in Canada. In the U.S., that's approximately 0.3% of the total curriculum hours.
9 hours!? That's a day at work!
The point is that your pain probably isn't going to be cured by someone who spent less time than it takes to watch a season of Game of Thrones studying it. Pain is a problem that requires a lot of work and time to solve — time your general physician doesn't have.
*This is strictly for diagnosing chronic pain, as someone whose own parents would not be alive today without an early diagnosis for breast cancer and need for partial colon removal. It is imperative to MoveU that you understand our point of view is that the diagnosing of pain must improve and what you can do in the meantime.*
Imaging and Surgery Obsession
The medical culture in the U.S. over-prescribes x-rays, MRIs, invasive procedures, and any other intervention to quickly alleviate pain. But the truth: most of the time the MRIs are wrong or not needed, and surgeries don't help get to the root of the issue.
Early MRI without indication has a strong iatrogenic effect in acute LBP, regardless of radiculopathy status. Providers and patients should be made aware that when early MRI is not indicated, it provides no benefits, and worse outcomes are likely.
In 2016, an estimated 20.4% of U.S. adults (50.0 million) had chronic pain and 8% of U.S. adults (19.6 million) had high-impact chronic pain, with higher prevalence associated with advancing age.
Shots, pills, procedures, and surgeries should be reserved for times when more conservative methods fail. They should not be a first-line treatment. There is no quick fix. Those things come with risks and the results are often short-term. A shot or a pill only works until it wears off, and surgeries can lead to more surgery and procedures down the line.
What to do About Your Diagnosis
If you already have an MRI or an X-Ray showing something, congratulations! You're not special! The truth is that most people have disc degeneration, herniations, damaged meniscus in the knees, or rotator cuff issues. The difference is most of them just got lucky that theirs didn't cause any pain. If yours is causing you pain, there are measures you can take TODAY to improve the muscles surrounding the issue.
We are not saying this is a cure, but its the absolute best place to start. If your back is weak and you strengthen it, resulting in the pain going away, then that sounds like a win to me!
I'm not going to say forget all about your diagnosis entirely. But, it may help you begin the process of improvement if you shove it in a deep dark corner of your mind, maybe next to that memory of the time you drunkenly called your ex.
We've written at length about the mindset one should practice when confronted with pain, whether acute or chronic. As science is only just beginning to understand, chronic pain can alter the neurochemistry of our brains, making it possible to be in pain long after the initial injury has actually healed. This has resulted in new research looking into reversing this effect with cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness meditation.
Rethinking Your Pain and Your Medical Diagnosis
You are not sick and you don't have a disease. If you go to the doctor, they will tell you just that, you have X disease or prognosis because it's their job to do so. If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. With the lack of training about pain management, doctors are going to go around hammering everything in.
So if you continue to think that your discs are degenerating when perhaps you just have tight muscles, how will that knowledge help you?
Pain doesn't have to be mysterious. Actually, it's pretty simple once you understand it.
Pain is a message from your body telling you that there is something moving improperly and requires your attention. Your attention, your thoughts, and your movements. Not a prescription, not a doctor, not a chiropractor. You and only you can take the steps to heal your body.
Lets start thinking about pain differently!
The MoveU program attacks chronic pain from a different perspective, fixing the root cause. Only you can know if a certain stretch or movement will help ease your pain and put your body back into alignment. The program is a video and community-based learning system that teaches YOU how to strengthen yourself into alignment. In turn, you learn better posture and how to correct movement-related pain.
A medical diagnosis is really just a description. It’s not an outcome, it’s not a destination, and it’s most certainly not your future if you take control. A diagnosis is not forever and a diagnosis can change depending on the medical professional you visit. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a guess, an opinion, or a temporary obstacle. But the way you respond to your diagnosis matters. You can let it limit you, drag you down, and define you. Or you can use it as motivation and fuel instead. You can Shatter Your Diagnosis with MoveU!
Our online program is a map, a toolbox, a guide. It’s a community, support, and power. MoveU is active in over 80 countries around the world. Join thousands of others who have shattered their diagnosis. Learn more here! Ready to commit to change? Click here to get started!
Written By David Schroer