Mindfulness and chronic pain…

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Our scientific understanding of acute pain vastly overwhelms our knowledge about chronic pain.  While there are many isolated pieces of information, there is no cohesive explanatory theory of chronic pain.  While acute pain is dependent upon the degree of tissue injury and inflammation, the progress of uninterrupted healing, our psychological response to and prior experience with chronic pain is often reported in the absence of continuing or increasing tissue damage or overt inflammation, and in the midst of apparent healing (as adequately as our bodies are capable), tens of millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain.

Perhaps it is the “suffering” that is the more important aspect of chronic pain.  Here science gives us a wild assortment of explanations, which conveys to me only one thing; no one knows why pain sufferers suffer.  So, if suffering is the central feature of chronic pain, yet we cannot explain it in a meaningful or useful way, treatment should arguably focus on lessening suffering, and for now, ignore the fact that suffering cannot be adequately explained or understood.

A very interesting phenomenon has been noted by many of our patients.  They tolerate their pain and reduce their overt suffering, if they embrace their pain, as though it were a natural part of their bodies’ experience, which of course it is.  Patients who suffer the most are divided into two categories:  those who cannot accept the fact that they were initially injured, angry at the causal event or the circumstances in which they find themselves, and those who are hyperaware of the presence of pain, to the extent that they cannot lead even close to a premorbid existence, furthering the extent of pain through deconditioning and weight gain.  Therapy should be directed toward achieving a balance between these two quite different responses to chronic pain.

Those patients who seem to suffer less or not at all with reported severe pain are those who accept the pain as part of their being, yet are determined to achieve the highest level of function.  This balance is a thesis of the “mindfulness” philosophy in which meditation is the tool to accept and achieve without anger and stress that typically accompanies chronic pain.  Mindfulness may well become a very important tool for pain practitioners and their patients.

About Dr. Michael J. O'Connell, New Hampshire
Dr. Michael J. O'Connell of Barrington, New Hampshire, has forged a distinguished career spanning over three decades, as entrepreneur, physician, businessman, philanthropist and healthcare consultant. As former owner, administrator and CEO of a 225+ employee multi-specialty medical practice, Dr. O'Connell has dedicated his entire professional life to helping patients with family medicine and especially those experiencing chronic pain and all aspects of addiction. Since selling his family of healthcare businesses, he has never once contemplated retirement despite his rich and fulfilling journey, but instead has turned his focus to consulting in an industry starved for courage and creativity. Having weathered many political, technological and legal challenges, there is hardly a storm he has not confronted, a tempest he has not quelled, an urgent need he has not met. While the talking heads and self-proclaimed experts in the field have assumed the conventions and standards of the times, Dr. O'Connell does not believe in merely reflecting the herd mentality, but rather in leading the charge. Eschewing political correctness, Dr. O'Connell says and does what needs saying and doing, and not what the mindless masses expect. In addition to the continual education afforded by his variegated life experiences, Dr O'Connell earned his BS in Biochemistry at the University of NH in 1975, his Medical Degree from Dartmouth College in 1981, interned at Walter Reed Medical Center in 1982, Residency/Fellowship at UCSF in1986, and finished his Masters in Healthcare Administration at UNH in 1995. Dr. O’Connell enjoys many outdoor activities, including rock climbing, snowboarding, hiking, and golf. Through the decades Dr. O'Connell has supported many non-profit charities to include the St. Charles Home in Rochester NH, the Tri City VNA and Hospice, Hyder House, and Cocheco Valley Humane Society. To the latter organization alone Dr. O'Connell has donated over $180,000 and pledged another $250,000 in the “Bring-Us-Home” campaign for a new building. His “Matching Donations Christmas drive” has generated over $175,000 in charitable giving from the community. In addition Dr. O'Connell has participated in many dozens of other volunteer and donation efforts locally as well as in Africa and the Dominican Republic. For a listing of how I gave back to the community during my career and continue to do see: https://michaeloconnellmdnh.wordpress.com/

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