LOS GATOS, CA – Mrs. Ann Oyin is a 82-year-old librarian who presented to her PCP for a cold that wasn’t getting any better. Dave Busey, a medicine intern, was working in the clinic that day and during his history and physical, he discovered something completely unexpected.
“When I asked if there was anything else bothering her beside her cold, she mentioned her lower back pain,” Toomey recounted. “It’s just something I’ve never heard about before.”
Although chronic lower back pain is rumored to be a widespread phenomenon, especially among older patients, it’s not something that most patients feel comfortable talking about. A recent poll published in the Journal of Patient Complaints showed that over 90% of patients 60 years and above had some lower back pain, but only 5% were willing to bring it up with a doctor.
“All the docs are so busy, and I only see my doctor when I have a specific issue, so I just stick to business,” said Robert Grunwell, a retired construction worker who bravely admits that he has suffered from low back pain for many years.
Another patient who wanted to remain anonymous agreed, “It clearly doesn’t have anything to do with my other issues, so I just feel so bad bringing it up.”
This stigma has prompted the Association of Pain Physicians to launch a campaign to encourage patients to speak up about their pain. Dr. Chris Owe, president of the association, stressed at the recent national meeting that it’s a large missed opportunity.
“We find that you basically have to trick people into talking about their pain,” said Dr. Owe. “It’s unfortunate because we have a great silver-based pill that basically cures chronic lower back pain. We just have to find the patients to give it to.”
When asked what prompted her to bring up her lower back pain, Mrs. Oyin admitted that she was just having a moment of frustration and blurted it out.
“Honestly, I thought it would be harmless since it was just the student who was asking,” Oyin said.
Since then, her story has spread. She’s planning on working with the APP on their upcoming campaign. Dr. Toomey has also written up her story as a case report that will be published in the next issue of Journal of Medical Zebras.