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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Football Retirements Highlight Link Between Mental Anguish & Chronic Pain

Why demoralization is a term that frequently surfaces in the discussion of chronic pain

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The recent retirement of football star Andrew Luck, along with the emotional comments of fellow football retiree Rob Gronkowski, brought to light another side to chronic pain: mental anguish. And this anguish is not unique to NFL players.

More than 50 million Americans have been diagnosed with chronic pain, a startling figure. Nitin Sekhri, MD, Medical Director of Pain Management at Westchester Medical Center describes chronic pain as any pain that lasts longer than expected.

Luck, like Gronkowski, described a loss of joy that was directly related to his chronic pain and a never-ending cycle of injury, discomfort and rehabilitation. That loss of joy is connected to a feeling of demoralization, a term that frequently surfaces in the discussion of chronic pain and which can lead to clinical depression.

“Demoralization is a side-effect of chronic pain for many patients,” said Stephen Ferrando, MD, Director of Psychiatry at WMCHealth. “Symptoms can be loss of hope, a diminished interest and pleasure in usual activities, and a sense of giving up. They are often triggered by a recurring stressor that is out of a patient’s control, like a recurring injury and the likelihood of continual injuries.”

The symptoms of demoralization occur with many patients who experience chronic pain. While for million-dollar athletes the solution may be to retire at what many consider a young age, for many Americans early retirement is not feasible.

When left demoralized in the face of seemingly unending pain, there is little hope or relief. For this reason, Dr. Sekhri determined the best way to manage chronic pain is with goal-oriented pain management rather than a “numbers-oriented” approach, which refers to the scale used to measure the amount of pain a patient feels. “When managing pain, it is better to focus on goal-oriented pain management,” explains Dr. Sekhri,. “Goals can begin with anything as simple as being able to walk the dog every day and slowly escalate to being able to run three miles every day without feeling pain. The goal can be whatever the patient can see as a realistic task.”

Focusing on a tangible goal can provide patients hope for the future, as opposed to a number-scale goal which can feel unattainable and unrewarding. Whether a patient is trying to get through the next football season or get through a walk around the block, the conversation around chronic pain management is changing. We are beginning to recognize the mental anguish that accompanies chronic pain and finding it equally as important to treat as the physical pain itself.

Westchester Medical Center’s Pain Management team takes a patient centered approach to pain and focuses on patient needs when selecting treatment options. Make your appointment at (914).493.2363

WMCHealth is one of New York State’s largest providers of behavioral health care with a comprehensive team can support and guide during times of emotional crisis:(914) 493-7088.