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April 18, 2024

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College students working through the pain

Chronic pain is something not often talked about for college students, but it is something they face, and something they must deal with in classes, clubs and jobs.

Chronic pain is a consistent pain that lasts for more than three months or six months, depending on the source, said Dr. Hares Akbary, the physician at the Wood County Hospital Pain Management clinic.

There they take patients who are looking for help with dealing with pain, usually after they consult other resources like physical therapy or chiropractors and have had testing done at the Emergency Room, he said.

Akbary sees around 450 to 500 patients a month.

Jo Wilson, a junior Psychology and Women, Gender and Sexuality double major, deals with lower back chronic pain.

Wilson developed lower back pain almost two years ago when they fell down the stairs at a party.

“It’s kind of a funny story… but ever since that it’s been just awful, like, if I sit down for too long it feels crampy and awful, if I stand up for too long it’s crampy and awful,” they said. “I know a lot of people if I tell them ‘here’s how my back is messed up’ they’ll probably be like ‘that’s dumb, you fell the down stairs.’ And okay, but now I have a physical impact that’s probably going to be here for the rest of my life.”

Lower back pain is the most common kind of chronic pain that Dr. Akbary sees. There are many other kinds of chronic pain that people deal with, but Wilson is among the majority.

“Sometimes it’s like a dull ache but sometimes it’s a really sharp pain,” Wilson said.

This can be solved by physical therapy or an epidural, and other kinds of common pain, like migraines, can be treated with Botox injections. Botox is also used for cosmetic purposes, but Dr. Akbary said that it can be a “slam dunk” for those with chronic, and debilitating, migraines.

Chronic pain affect people physically, but it also takes a mental and emotional toll on a person.

“Chronic pain interferes greatly with a person’s life. Obviously, it affects them physically but also emotionally. Around 60 to 80 percent of the patients I see have a mood disorder. This makes sense because a person may not be getting the sleep that they need, they may have to miss school or work and end up fired. It’s a mental drain,” Dr. Akbary said.

Wilson deals with chronic pain on a day-to-day basis and it does affect their life, “not to a super debilitating point, but definitely to a point where it’s [affecting] just trying to do things that normal student do, like if you had back to back classes. Sitting for that long can make you restless,” they said.

According to a 2006 survey from the American Academy of Pain Management, 70 percent of people surveyed said they had trouble concentrating because of the pain. Also, 86 percent of people surveyed said they had trouble sleeping.

This has impacts on college student’s lives, from how they perform in classes to how they socialize with their friends.

“I think it can make it hard to focus sometimes, I’ve had classes where I’ve been really engaged in the subject and actually like read for class and it’ll be like my third class in the day and because I’ve been sitting so much I’m like ‘oh my god, I’m in pain’ and I just want to go home,” Wilson said. “Even like sleeping, because that’s the same position all the time and that’s not comfortable.”

However, there are ways to deal, even with back to back classes or desk jobs.

“Kind of what I try to do, personally, because I work at the library, so I try to figure out some things I can do at the desk, like sit down and relax in that way and also stand, and maybe shelve books or records or something, so I can have that kind of stretching out,” Wilson said. “But you can still do all the things you need to do to be a functioning adult.”

Chronic pain is an invisible condition, so people may not be as willing to offer services or be lenient.

Dr. Akbary told the story of a patient that was dealing with chronic pain, and her husband did not believe her. They had to go through marriage counseling because it affected their relationship so strongly.

“I think a lot of people, for the most part, try to be cooperative with it. I know most people are pretty lenient. I know I try to stretch or relax in class, especially in more discussion-based classes where we are having a normal conversation, anyway. And, just given the majors I have, the professors are pretty lenient about working around different situations,” Wilson said.

Wilson does not utilize resources from Accessibility Services, but it is there for students with conditions they may prevent them from taking classes in the same way as their peers.

Chronic pain can make aspects of student life hard, but there are ways to ways to deal. Students are able to utilize Accessibility Services and the pain clinic at the Wood County Hospital.

“My hope is that the patient’s pain will be decreased,” said Dr. Akbary.

Wilson said they do not have plans of changing their future goal, to be a Clinical Psychologist, though their back pain is something to be considered.

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