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“This Doesn’t Usually Hurt that Much”: Patients With Fibromyalgia Spectrum Disorder

By HANS DUVEFELT

Specialists in orthopedics and general surgery often want us, the primary care doctors, to manage postoperative pain. I don’t like that.

First, I don’t know as much as the surgeons about the typical, expected recovery from their procedures. My own appendectomy in Sweden in 1972 was an open one that I stayed in the hospital for several days for (and nobody mentioned that there were such things as pain medications). I’m sure a laparoscopic one leaves you in less pain, but I don’t personally know by how much.

Postoperative pain could be an indicator of complications. Why would a surgeon not want to be the one to know that their patient is in more pain than they were expecting?

Pain that lingers beyond the postoperative or post-injury period is more up to us to manage. I accept my role in managing that, once I know that there is no complication.

I have many patients who hurt more that most people every time they have an injury, a minor procedure or a symptom like leg swelling, arthritis flare or toothache. The common view is that those people are drug seekers, taking every chance to ask for opiates.

I believe that is sometimes the case, but it isn’t that simple. I believe that people have different experiences with pain. We all know about fibromyalgia patients or those with opioid induced hyperalgesia, but pain is not a binary phenomenon. Like blood glucose, from hypoglycemia, through normoglycemia to prediabetes and all the degrees of diabetic control, pain experience falls on a scale from less than others to more than others.

I reject the notion that pain is a vital sign. When I was Medical Director in Bucksport I discouraged the use of numeric pain ratings. But I did encourage talking about the experience of pain as a subjective, nuanced and very valid consideration. We started a comprehensive pain education module for all our chronic pain patients.

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