Why Western Medicine Seems to Struggle with Pain Management

Pain Management


Pain is a normal part of life. We all experience it. But for those who suffer from chronic pain, it is more than just an occasional thing. It is more than a mere inconvenience. Chronic pain is life defining. And unfortunately, Western medicine seems to struggle to manage it.

Why is that? Why do so many chronic pain patients have to see specialists just to find moderate relief? Why is it that people are beginning to turn their backs on Western medicine to embrace things like medical marijuana to manage their chronic pain?

We don’t know for sure, but research data does give us some plausible explanations. Let us look at three of those explanations in detail.

1. The Western Approach

At the top of the list is the Western approach to healthcare delivery. We refer to our system as ‘medicine’ because that is what we mainly rely on. You know from experience that just about every visit to your GP will result in a prescription. Our system is built on the belief that there is a drug or procedure for everything.

By contrast, Eastern medicine is more focused on the root causes of illness, disease, and injury. In addition to alleviating symptoms, Eastern practitioners tend to take a more holistic approach. This is to say they seek to identify the root cause and treat it, along with its symptoms and potential complications.

The rise of medical cannabis seems to support the idea that Western medicine is broken. Utahmarijuana.org is an organization that helps Utah patients obtain medical cannabis cards. They say that Utah law considers chronic pain a qualifying condition. They also say that many of the patients they talk to have given up on Western methods for treating chronic pain. They have tried those methods and have not found relief.

2. Assessment Capabilities

The second factor is a lack of assessment capabilities. A study conducted more than 20 years ago concluded that Western doctors are ill-equipped to assess complaints of pain in any tangible form. There are no tests that can verify its existence. So when a patient complains of pain, the doctor has to figure out how much weight to give those complaints.

Hand-in-hand with assessment capabilities is a doctor’s knowledge of pain. The same study concluded that knowledge is lacking in Western medicine. Because we don’t know as much about pain as we would like, we don’t know how to treat it. So out comes the prescription pad.

3. Personal Beliefs About Pain

Finally, the previously referenced study suggests that a clinician’s personal beliefs and attitudes about pain can influence how they handle patient complaints. A doctor who believes a patient is not telling the truth about pain may make less of an effort to address that symptom. For the longest time, that’s how fibromyalgia was treated. Doctors simply refused to believe the condition was real. We know otherwise now, but how many patients were never properly treated back then?

Western medicine is built on a foundation of science. That is not inherently bad, but science doesn’t have all the answers. In fact, it has fewer answers than scientists would lead us to believe. And without scientific answers, Western practitioners find themselves in a state of limbo. They don’t know what to do, so they fail to do anything productive.

The Eastern approach to pain isn’t necessarily perfect, either. But Eastern practitioners don’t just write prescriptions and send people home. Could that be the reason so many people suffering from chronic pain are willing to try Eastern medicine, even against the advice of their doctors?

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