If you were reading your favorite newspaper in the late 19th or early 20th century, you would have seen many advertisements that were very similar to the ones we see today. You may have seen an advertisement for the latest model of Ford automobile, or perhaps the latest and greatest cough medicine marketed by Bayer (heroin).
You may have even seen an advertisement for the latest medical procedure that was so popular and revolutionary that it won it’s inventor a Nobel Prize (the lobotomy). Aside from the Ford advert, what do the last two ads have in common? Primarily, that they were once widely accepted and respected medical treatments that we now look back at in horror. There was a time, less than 100 years ago, when heroin was used to treat anything from headaches to basic cold and cough symptoms, and the lobotomy – a procedure in which a doctor would simply stick an ice pick behind your eye balls and into the frontal lobe of the brain in order to scramble the grey matter like an omelet – was used to treat anything from schizophrenia to depression and anxiety.
It's easy to look back, at these procedures and scoff at the short sidedness of the physicians who employed them. How could have they not seen the problems associated with these drugs or procedures?
The follies of medical history seem all too obvious now, but thinking about them does beg the questions; what current medical practices and paradigms will we look back at, 100 years from now, that will make us slap our foreheads and wonder what in the hell were we thinking?
In my opinion, there are two areas of medicine that are in desperate need for new research, new understanding and new treatments - in addition to the way that our healthcare system provides said treatments in general. The two specific areas are mental health and pain management.
As a physical therapist, I will focus primarily on the latter, but so much of what is said about the understanding and treatment of pain is also true for the treatment of mental health disorders. Let me insert a disclaimer here that obviously there are detailed and nuanced arguments that need to be made to address these topic comprehensively, but today’s article is designed primarily to provoke thought, not to provide a comprehensive critique on any particular medical group or treatment philosophy.
I am not the first person to point to the current state of the opioid crisis that is plaguing our society. It’s been addressed everywhere from late night talk shows to previous articles that we have written here. The reason that I feel the way pain is something that will be looked back at with particular disdain, is that we know better – and still aren’t taking significant or meaningful action to deal with it.
It is not as if we have an epidemic of uncontrolled pain and we simply have nothing else we can do to address it. Quite the contrary, actually, we have a variety of alternatives that have been researched and proven to work not just more effectively, but with many fewer side effects (physical therapy is just one of these).
Keep in mind that I am not talking about acute pain management that one would receive after a surgical procedure, or pain medication provided in an emergency situation in the face of a traumatic event, but instead, chronic pain that is being masked year after year without providing the time, attention, or treatment necessary to address the root cause of the problem and the way the system is designed to perpetuate this wrongheadedness.
Our current healthcare paradigm does not always allow health-care providers the time or resources required to address root causes of pain, so as a result, the most vulnerable segments of our population are relegated to either dealing with pain, or the side effects of the pain medication they are prescribed.
I am confident that one day soon, more of us will realize what some of us already know about what needs to change about the way we provide health care here in the United States. When we do, we will be able to transcend current obstacles to providing better care to those who need it most. We will look at the way our system worked, and by extension, the way that pain, mental health, and so many other maladies that are being mis-treated, and wonder; how did we ever let this happen?