The Canadian Pain Coalition says chronic pain is a ‘silent epidemic’ in Canada.

“Some people call it an invisible disability,” says coalition president Lynn Cooper.

According to the group, one in five Canadians – an estimated 6.8 million people coast to coast – live with chronic pain.

Chronic pain is more serious and longer lasting than general aches and pains which can disappear in short order and often respond easily to treatment.

It’s defined as any pain which continues for three months or longer.

“It’s very disempowering. It’s dehumanizing. It’s demoralizing,” says Cooper.

Doctors say patients with chronic pain often have to be treated for more than just the pain, because pain can lead to depression, which in turn can cause further pain.

Anxiety and stress are other symptoms of chronic pain, Cooper says – and in extreme cases, those unable to cope with extreme pain can even turn to suicide.

Kitchenerresident Maureen Fleming knows the mental symptoms of pain all too well. Born with cerebral palsy, Fleming now lives with arthritis, cancer and constant reminders of physical pain.

“Chronic pain, to me, leaves me feeling hopeless,” she says.

“You have to have some kind of hope that you’ll have some quality of life, and with chronic pain it just doesn’t feel like I do.”

Dr. Ken Smith provides chiropractic care to Fleming to help her with her pain. He says his methods get better results than prescribing painkillers.

“The chemical approach to pain management isn’t always sufficient to help these people cope with their pain,” he says.

But Fleming says she’s learned the biggest mistake sufferers of chronic pain make isn’t in what type of treatment they receive, but in not doing enough to look out for their own best interests.

“You really have to take an active role and work with the health care professionals to ensure that you have some quality of life,” she says.

Fleming does use some medication to help manage her pain, and says the combination of that, regular visits to her chiropractor and maintaining a positive outlook are the best combination of treatments to keep her pain manageable.