Jack Knox: Pain affects more of us than you might think

My back went out Thursday. I don’t know where it went, but I eagerly anticipate its return.

I am confident it will show up eventually. This is not the first time I have put my back out (though it is the first time I have done so while changing gears on my bike, which, gosh, is a new kind of special), so experience tells me that it will return, just like the prodigal son, Winona Ryder or a badly aging ’90s boy band.

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For this I am grateful, as there are millions of Canadians who are not so lucky.

The Angus Reid Institute released a survey Friday showing chronic pain is a much more widespread problem than many of us knew. Furthermore, two thirds of those suffering ongoing pain say they can’t afford the range of treatments they feel would improve their lives.

One in three adult Canadians reported being in some form of pain that has lasted longer than three months, said the poll, which was done in partnership with Pain B.C. and the Mindset Social Innovation Foundation. One in five considered the pain significant, due to its emotional and physical impact on their daily lives.

“From their working lives, to sleeping habits, to personal relationships and mood, the often-invisible consequences of chronic pain are a harsh reality for many,” said the pollster, which in June surveyed 2,137 Canadian adults, of whom 721 said they were dealing with ongoing pain. To do a deeper analysis, it augmented that latter group with another 941 members of the Angus Reid Forum — the pool of people it polls — who identified as having long-term pain.

Among the findings:

• Four in five of those in significant, ongoing pain say it stops them from doing regular activities, and six in 10 say it contributes to anxiety and depression. One in four sometimes feel “life isn’t worth living.”

• Three-quarters of those reporting ongoing pain have had it for more than three years. Three in 10 say it has lasted more than a decade.

• Lower-income households and women over age of 35 are more likely to be affected. (That latter bit is noteworthy in Greater Victoria, where females comprise 52 per cent of the population and their median age is 46.3, four years older than in the rest of the country).

• Eight in 10 Canadians are worried about opioid abuse due to pain. Of those who experience long-term pain, almost one in five avoid opioids entirely and one in four “curtail their usage of these types of medications because of health concerns.”

• Nearly four in 10 of those living with severe pain “have experienced difficulties in accessing prescription pain drugs because of their doctor’s or the healthcare system’s concerns about addiction and abuse.”

• Three in four of those who use cannabis to treat their pain call it effective. That’s the highest success rate for any of the physical or medicinal treatment methods they were asked about.

• More than nine in 10 of those polled said all Canadians, regardless of income, should have access to pain treatment that works for them. That was backed up by overwhelming support for the idea of higher subsidies for those who can’t afford treatments they need, more money for research into therapies and increasing the number of treatments covered as a part of public health care.

Of course, how people respond to questions depends on how they are framed, and this poll was done in conjunction with the Pain B.C. Society, which, as the name suggests, has a goal of preventing and dealing with chronic pain. If the survey was done on behalf of, say, a government watchdog organization and the question was phrased “Would you like to see your taxes increase to pay for other people’s weed?” the answer might be different.

But I’ll say this: after a day of playing human pretzel, impatiently waiting for my back to come back from the bar, or wherever it has gone, I am glad that I am not a bricklayer or the parent of a toddler and that my job involves little more than sitting on my butt and typing (though at this moment, even stretching for the delete key is good for a muffled scream). I am even more glad to know the pain will soon be gone. Others aren’t so fortunate.

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