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Chronic pain: A daily, hidden reality for many

(BPT) - Mariann Farrell was a busy, young mom in Pittsburgh whose life revolved around her family and her career as a music teacher – until the day of her car crash.

It has been 30 years since the accident that left her with such debilitating chronic pain that she was forced to give up her job. Mariann, now 66, has had to rely on her family for daily support.

“My chronic pain doesn’t just affect me – it affects my family just as much,” she says. “Sometimes I worry that I’m over-burdening them because there are so many things I can no longer do myself.”

A new documentary titled “Pain Matters” airing on the Discovery Channel Nov. 16, Dec. 7 and Dec. 14 at 8 a.m. and online at www.PainMattersFilm.com, explores the realities of living with chronic pain through the eyes of Mariann and others like her. Financial support, clinical input and other expertise for “Pain Matters” were provided by Teva Pharmaceuticals.

Living with chronic pain – which is persistent pain lasting three months or longer – often means not being able to get through the day without the help of a loved one, as shown by a new national survey that digs deeper into many of the issues chronicled in the documentary. The survey found that chronic pain is a constant struggle for nearly all people living with it, and many feel that it burdens their closest relationships with loved ones. The survey, titled Individual Burdens of Chronic Pain, was conducted on behalf of Teva Pharmaceuticals in collaboration with the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA) and the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM).

“Today there are 100 million American adults like Mariann who live with chronic pain – more than cancer, diabetes and heart disease combined – yet we rarely hear about the enduring challenges they face daily,” says Penney Cowan, ACPA executive director. “This survey is important because it shows that pain is a tough reality not only for the person who experiences it, but their loved ones, too.”

Erin Farrell, who was only 10 at the time of the accident, has always struggled with the invisibility of her mom’s pain.

“Growing up with a mom with chronic pain isn’t something most people understand,” she says. “At times I have been frustrated by people who doubt her pain, because I see every day how real it is.”

Even those closest to a person in pain – their family and friends – sometimes underestimate the severity of their loved one’s pain, according to the survey. It’s this invisibility that can make pain difficult to manage and for some, hard to talk about. More than half of people with pain feel reluctant to tell others they are taking prescription medication to treat it. Often, many do not use other forms of therapy like exercise, physical therapy or psychotherapy, all of which can be important parts of pain management.

Mariann still experiences pain but has learned with the help of her doctors and a local ACPA support group how to use exercise and meditation to better cope.

“The hardest part about chronic pain is learning that it will never go away,” she says. “You just have to learn how to better manage it so that you can get back to your life.”

For more information about chronic pain, visit www.theACPA.org/Pain-Management-Tools or www.painmed.org/PatientCenter/Main.aspx. To learn more about “Pain Matters,” visit www.PainMattersFilm.com.

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