“Chronic pain, an underestimated scourge”

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FIGAROVOX / CHRONIQUE – It would be wrong to underestimate the moral, physiological, psychological and economic repercussions of chronic pain, analyzes Olivier Babeau. According to him, a real improvement in the management of these ailments is today both possible and desirable.


Olivier Babeau.


© Jean-Christophe MARMARA / Le Figaro
Olivier Babeau.


Each week, Olivier Babeau deciphers the times for FigaroVox. He is president of the Sapiens Institute and, moreover, professor of management sciences at the University of Bordeaux. He recently published The new digital disorder: How digital is exploding inequalities (Buchet Chastel, 2020).

Twelve million: this is not the number of French people affected each year with the flu, which only affects two to eight million people per year in our country, but that of our compatriots who suffer from chronic pain, according to the White Paper of pain published in 2017 by the French Society for the Study and Treatment of Pain (SFETD).

What is chronic pain? It is pain that has been present for more than six months and is of no use from a medical point of view. When pain is usually an alert, the signal for a physical problem to be treated, chronic pain is persistent and unnecessary pain. It does not denote disease: it becomes disease.

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Beyond abstract definitions, chronic pain is a scourge. It is an economic plague. Far from only concern old age, chronic pain affects many workers: it is estimated that more than 80 million working days are affected each year by chronic pain.

More generally, these poorly identified and poorly treated pains also lead to significant additional medical costs for our health system. However, chronic pain is above all a human scourge, with heavy physical, moral and social consequences for its victims and those around them.

While chronic pain is of varying severity, it can be severely incapacitating for many patients. It affects their professional life by forcing them to absences, which are sometimes poorly understood. Just look at the way we still treat a real and disabling condition like migraine, which is only one form of chronic pain.

This pain, by its recurrent and pervasive character, often comes to occupy the entire mental horizon, rendering its victim incapable of thinking about any other subject, thus deteriorating family and social relations. Behind the figures lie so many human and personal tragedies.

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Today, 70% of patients with chronic pain do not receive appropriate treatment: improving this percentage is already a major first challenge. The second challenge is to make this treatment more effective. Initially, the victims of chronic pain are taken care of by a drug treatment which, very often, is not enough to make the chronic pain disappear. Then come opioid treatments, of which we unfortunately know the heavy side effects, for sometimes disappointing results.

Is the use of drugs the only or at least the best solution? No. For more than ten years, technology has offered methods that treat more than 70% of cases, with rarer and less disabling side effects. These treatments have names: neuromodulation or magnetic stimulation, TENS or RTMS. But to get there, it usually takes five to six years of drug treatment. What unnecessary suffering! Why not include these technological, individualized treatments earlier in the care process?

There is an urgent need to broaden the distribution of these non-drug treatments which have proven their effectiveness. For this, it is essential to carry out educational work, to relay the discourse of pain specialists in order to advance public awareness and debate, more than ten years after the end of the last Pain Plan.

Among the initiatives undertaken in this direction, an important day will be held on November 6, bringing together health professionals, patients, politicians, experts and open to all (chronic pain.tech).

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Freeing ourselves from pain is one of the oldest human dreams. At a time when technological advances allow us to touch it, let us take advantage of these advances for the benefit of individuals, our health system and our entire society.

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