Pandemic leaves chronic pain patients waiting for relief, survey finds

Severe back pain dominated Letha Baines’ life for seven years, making everyday tasks like standing, climbing stairs and gardening difficult. Despite medications and even surgery, the pain persisted. And Letha is not alone. A new survey commissioned by Medtronic, a global leader in healthcare technology, and conducted by public opinion research firm The Harris Poll, finds people living with chronic back or leg pain often suffer for years without effective treatment or awareness of the options available to them — a problem that has only been exacerbated by care delays caused by the pandemic.

“Standing for more than 10 minutes would be painful,” said Letha, a nurse and long-term services coordinator for an insurance company in Texas. “The pain would start in my back and go down my legs to my feet. Even just standing at the sink and washing dishes was painful. I would have to pull up a chair and sit down to wash them.”

According to the survey*, “Painful Pandemic: How a Healthcare System Under Strain Impacts Chronic Pain Patients,” pain significantly affects nearly every aspect of life for those living with it. Nearly three-quarters of respondents say they feel like they can never get a good night’s sleep. More than 60% believe their pain has negatively impacted their mental health, while 62% find it harder to enjoy time with family. Respondents also report feeling frustrated, annoyed, exhausted and depressed. Most believe their pain is not being managed effectively, while three-quarters want alternatives to medications.

Even so, only half of people living with chronic back pain have seen a physician who specialized in Pain Management to evaluate their pain and understand available treatment options. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated these challenges, according to the survey. Nearly 9 in 10 say their pain has worsened or is unimproved since the pandemic began, and half say they have experienced care delays, including canceled and postponed appointments and procedures.

For Letha, even simple tasks like bending or walking upstairs became incredibly difficult. Perhaps most upsetting was the fact that the pain made her give up favorite activities like gardening. After medications and surgery failed to relieve her pain, Letha was referred to Dr. Candice Burnette, a pain management specialist at Modern Pain Management in Houston, TX.

“While the pandemic has delayed care for many people living with chronic pain, patients shouldn’t lose hope,” Dr. Burnette said. “When conservative treatments like medications or physical therapy fail, there are other options patients can consider for lasting relief.”

Typical treatments for chronic pain vary depending on the patient, type and location of pain. Oral medications such as opioids remain the most common treatment for chronic pain. Physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture and radiofrequency ablation, a procedure that utilizes electric currents to destroy nerve fibers carrying pain signals, are also sometimes used. However, 89% of survey respondents say they wish they could find a better solution to address their chronic back or leg pain.

Despite a multi-decade history of treating patients with chronic pain, device-based therapies such as targeted drug delivery (TDD) and spinal cord stimulation (SCS) are relatively unfamiliar to many people living with chronic pain, according to the survey. TDD, involves an implanted pump that delivers pain medication directly to the spine. SCS uses a small, implanted stimulator, much like a pacemaker, to deliver electrical stimulation to the spinal cord and mask pain signals before they reach the brain.

Dr. Burnette determined that Letha was a strong candidate for spinal cord stimulation therapy.

“Many patients didn’t know just how much pain they were in until they tried SCS and felt relief,” Dr. Burnette said. After receiving her SCS implant, Letha experienced significantly less pain and started to enjoy her life again, including getting back out into the garden.

“I want everyone living with back pain to know that they don’t have to continue suffering,” Letha said. “Talk with your doctor and find out whether there are options to relieve your pain.”

Not every patient is a candidate for these treatments, and these decisions should be made in consultation with a doctor such as a Pain Management physician. Spinal cord stimulation involves risks including infection, lead movement, pain at the implant site, and loss of therapy effectiveness. To learn more about the survey and chronic pain treatment options, visit www.medtronic.com/us-en/c/pain-therapies/pain-study-results.html.

*Medtronic data on file.

About this survey
This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Medtronic among 810 U.S. adults ages 18+ who currently experience chronic back or leg pain. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

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