Opioid Epidemic

How Health Care Providers Can Help Destigmatize Chronic Pain


Individuals with chronic pain often have to deal with stigma surrounding their condition. Friends, family members, or co-workers may mistakenly believe the individual with chronic pain is seeking attention or simply lazy. Unfortunately, individuals with chronic pain may even face stigma from medical professionals. Health care providers may believe that they are fabricating their pain or the severity of their pain, believing instead that they are drug-seeking.

Because chronic pain stigma can contribute to negative outcomes for individuals with chronic pain, such as reduced self-esteem, mental health challenges, and undertreatment of pain, destigmatization is essential. The medical community can help with this process.

Health care providers can take specific steps to help destigmatize chronic pain:

  • Become educated on the impact of chronic pain stigma. Understanding how chronic pain stigma affects an individual’s mental and physical health is an important step toward destigmatization.
  • Acknowledge that bias in health care exists. Bias in health care can occur based on race, age, health conditions, and various other factors. Acknowledging that bias exists and making a conscious effort to prevent it from impacting healthcare is essential.
  • Start from a place of compassion. If a health care provider imagines themselves in the position of the person with chronic pain, it can help them to treat the person with compassion.
  • Acknowledge that an individual’s pain is legitimate. Acknowledging an individual’s pain can provide them with reassurance and encouragement.
  • Consider using a biopsychosocial approach to treat chronic pain.
    The biopsychosocial model of pain considers the biological, psychological, and sociological factors that contribute to chronic pain. In addition to reducing or eliminating pain, this type of treatment also aims to reduce anxiety (with stress management and coping techniques) and improve physical functioning.

Additional source used to create this article: Colorado Pain Care.

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