“Why does nobody believe me?” This is something that we regularly hear from clients suffering chronic pain. It is less common among client’s suffering chronic pain syndromes such as complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and myofascial pain syndrome (MPS). This is because with chronic pain syndromes there are usually clear, objective physical signs of the condition. However, with chronic pain disorders such as somatoform disorder, where often there are few, if any, objective physical signs and the diagnosis may be almost entirely dependent upon the sufferers own description of the pain, it is a quite understandable expression of frustration.
The aura of disbelief can begin very early. Whilst chronic pain conditions sometimes follow serious injuries, they are equally often triggered by a physical injury that may have originally been described as moderate or even relatively minor; certainly one where a full recovery might usually be expected within weeks or a few months. The fact that symptoms do not then improve as expected, but conversely, become worse, starts to fuel the sense of disbelief in others.
The waters can become even muddier when, as often happens, a chronic pain syndrome develops into a chronic pain disorder. Although with a chronic pain syndrome there will usually be objective physical signs, there will commonly also be a psychological component present. When this psychological component becomes very prominent and often overwhelming, a chronic pain disorder can result. The perception of pain increases, as a result the sufferer becomes more depressed and despondent, worsening the perception of the pain and setting up a vicious cycle.
The pain is absolutely genuine. The sufferer is not “malingering” or consciously exaggerating their pain, rather they are suffering from a genuine and extremely painful medical condition. However, the word “psychological” can, quite understandably, be a very difficult one for the sufferer to comprehend when they are suffering such genuine and often life changing pain. However, in the hope of putting this into context, sufferers from chronic pain are often referred to a pain clinic, where treatment will proceed on a “multi-disciplinary” basis. This means that the sufferer will receive treatment not only from specialist pain doctors and physical therapists such as physiotherapists, but also from psychologists. The multi-disciplinary approach is crucial as it tackles both the physical and psychological aspects of the pain at the same time.
The sense of frustration in being disbelieved can be heightened by the claims process itself. To an insurance company, an accident victim, whatever their injury or injuries, is no more than a damage limitation exercise. However conciliatory their approach may seem, their sole aim is to pay out as little as they can possibly get away with. Of course, if an accident victim has clear and wholly objective signs of injury, the insurance company’s reaction is usually less hostile than if the injury has a largely subjective element.
To an insurance company, chronic pain conditions are like a red rag to a bull. Their immediate reaction is that the sufferer must be malingering for financial gain. The doors to their armoury will open fully. ‘Hired Gun’ medical experts, extensive video surveillance, social media monitoring and the trawling through the minutiae of the victims background; all in an attempt to undermine the Claimant’s credibility.
That is why it is absolutely fundamental that the claimant’s solicitor has the required skill and experience to pursue the claim. A good solicitor specialising in chronic pain will anticipate all of the insurance company’s usual lines of attack and will be fully prepared to tackle them head on as they arise. High quality medical evidence from senior and respected medical consultants is essential, as is a forensic review of documents such as medical, employment, tax and benefits records.
But equally as important, the solicitor must understand their client’s medical condition. Without that understanding they cannot possibly do justice to their client’s claim. The solicitor must also understand the importance of early, specialist treatment from recognised experts and at national centres of excellence such as the Bath Centre for Pain Services.
Many of our clients started their claims with other firms of solicitors, before becoming frustrated and often demoralised at their lack of understanding. However, some people who contact us tell us that they feel that their solicitor does not believe them. We have even had people telling us that their own solicitor has described their condition as being “all in your mind“! If that is the reaction of their own solicitor, is it any wonder then that people ask “why does nobody believe me?“