Creating a dialogue
When celebrities discuss their experiences with a taboo topic in a public arena it can often create a dialogue allowing others to follow suit. After Lady Gaga recently shared her struggle with chronic pain, this is exactly what happened. Many others came out of the woodwork to share their stories as well. The response was overwhelmingly positive, which seems like a good thing …
Gaga’s flare up
Gaga shared her chronic pain experience via a post on Instagram with the caption ‘having a frustrating day with chronic pain’. Sounds a bit like a flare-up. The knowledge that even celebrities go through flare ups may help others feel less alone when experiencing them too. Perhaps sharing Gaga’s flare-up story (or just having Poker Face lightly playing in the background) might help when explaining that flare-ups are normal and often expected, that they rarely signify harm and instead are an uber-protection mechanism, trying to look out for you.
Spotlight on pain
Being invisible is a commonality that chronic pain shares with other conditions – think of cancer and diabetes. But right now, thanks to Gaga’s Insty pics, chronic pain is enjoying a moment in the spotlight – its 15 minutes of fame. This is a good thing, right? Well, it does create awareness that often engenders support and understanding from others, and if we’re lucky (and there’s enough hoo-haa) this might even translate to money for researchers and better treatment. It could also help mould the cultural and social stigma towards chronic pain to see a someone like Lady Gaga, generally viewed as a strong, successful person, divulge her experiences. But is any publicity always good publicity?
Do we take her advice?
Celebrities are familiar to us and this can manifest into a sense of trustworthiness. With or without intent, celebrities are also living advertisements. This combination can lead well-meaning celebrities to inadvertently (or perhaps purposefully) recommend treatments that may not have backing from the medical community. People have written books, blogs and research papers in medical journals exploring this phenomenon of celebrity effect on healthcare. We’ve seen it recently with Michael Phelps cupping marks at the Rio Olympics. There is an underlying assumption that celebrities have access to to healthcare, unencumbered by financial restraints – therefore they must be getting the best stuff. This assessment often leads clever people to forget that this is essentially a case study of n=1. Nevertheless, Gaga shared her ‘personal remedies’ with her fans (albeit with a disclaimer to consult a doctor first):
“When my body goes into a spasm one thing I find really helps is infrared sauna … I combine this treatment with marley silver emergency blankets … In order to not overheat my system and cause more inflammation i follow this with either a VERY cold bath, ice bath or … keep many reusable cold packs in the freezer ( or frozen peas’ n carrots’!) and pack them around the body in all areas of pain.”
Celebrity attention can force those working in the clinical arena to have some knowledge and an opinion on the treatment. I still don’t claim to know a whole lot on the topic of infrared saunas and ice baths, but there seems to be a whole list of people for whom this treatment would not be safe for, from those on certain medications to some pre-existing health conditions. It also raises concern that once again, the focus for chronic pain treatment is placed solely on the body. Perhaps the fact that Gaga is encouraging others to talk about their experiences, at least kind-of hints towards acknowledging the other socio and psychological contributors to a person’s pain state.
Gaga in your clinic
What does this mean for those at the coalface? Has anyone started to see a stream of patients coming into the clinic asking for infrared sauna/ice bath treatment for their pain? Any other interesting requests led by celebrity endorsements?
– Hayley Leake
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Yes Hayley sadly, when celebrities share their experiences with the public it is presumed that they must have access to the best of the best. In my experience it is, paradoxically usullay the complete opposite following, in my opinion often the most wackiest of treatments possible……An old saying “It must be true as I read it in the press” springs to mind.
I like how she says ‘In order to not over heat my system and cause more inflammation……’
I have always been ready to jump in and discuss/correct the whole ‘inflammation’ statement when someone has persistent pain and my assumption is that they are using the term accurately.
I realised only fairly recently (I am perhaps a bit slow on the uptake) that sometimes people are actually thinking ‘aggravated’ or ‘stirred up’ when they say ‘inflammed’ without knowing any differently. Worth considering before you jump down Lady Gaga’s throat.