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Pain can be complex: 5 tips on how to manage it

Photo: Pain can be complex: 5 tips on how to manage it
One in five Australians experience persistent pain and for around half of them the pain impacts greatly on quality of life. The Pain Revolution is here to change that.

By educating practitioners through seminars and sessions across the country, the Pain Revolution aim to give you and your patients the knowledge, skills and support needed to understand and deliver effective pain care.

Pain is extremely complex at times, so to get you started, we’ve listed five tips that can be used to assist people experiencing persistent pain.

Persistent pain does not always have an obvious cause

While pain can be caused by a fracture, laceration, contusion, sprain or some other incident, it’s a common misconception that pain is always caused by some type of obvious tissue damage.
Similarly, sometimes pain linked to physical damage can often linger, long after the original physical damage has healed.

Pain may not always be related to the extent of the injury either, meaning a seemingly non-existent injury can cause great pain, whereas a catastrophic injury can be pain-free.

We need to look beyond the tissue when looking at contributors to persistent pain.

Persistent pain is complex - everything matters!

Persistent pain is often complex. Unfortunately, many people – including both pain patients and health practitioners – are told pain is simple, should be easy to spot and can be easily fixed by a drug, surgery, a massage, RICER or just rest. This is simply not true for many who experience chronic pain.

The feeling of pain can be just as severe when it’s caused by a psychological issue; for instance, when a person feels under threat in some way and – even subconsciously – feels the need for protection.

There are factors from every aspect of our lives, beyond tissue damage or injury, that may feed this need for protection. These include:

  • Our beliefs about what it is that’s causing our pain
     
  • Feelings or thoughts about pain generally
     
  • Being fearful due to pain
     
  • Thinking our pain will get worse and we won’t recover
     
  • The information we have been given about our pain
     
  • The reaction of primary caregivers in regards to our pain or pain relief treatments
     
  • Our previous experiences of pain or others’ pain
     
  • Our overall health including our mood, anxiety and stress levels, sleep and tiredness
     
  • The way our nervous systems and immune systems work
     
  • And even our genes.

By understanding the protective nature of pain, steps can be taken to reduce the need for this protection or understand the cause of pain.

The contributing factors will always vary from person to person, and so the steps taken will always be individual.

Question the status quo treatments for persistent pain

Science says that the first thing any health professional should do when working with a patient with persistent pain, is to reassure and educate them about their protective pain system.

Some of the most helpful things that can be done for persistent pain are ‘active’ interventions (activities done by the person for themselves) such as:

  • Mindfulness
     
  • Pain education
     
  • Walking
     
  • Exercise you enjoy
     
  • Stress management
     
  • Gradually exposing yourself to painful and feared activities, and
     
  • Self-management skills.

Healthcare professionals are now more educated on how pain works and the benefit of prescribing these active interventions rather than ‘passive’ interventions that may only provide short term relief.

Most importantly is educating patients and giving them the tools and information they need to recover and master their situation.

Learning about pain is an effective treatment for pain itself

Knowledge is power and learning about pain is therapy. You can never learn too much about the complexities of pain and what resources are available to patients with persistent pain.

The website tamethebeast.org is one such resource and you’ll find a wealth of information about how pain manifests and how it can be managed.

It teaches patients the three questions anyone who experiences persistent pain should be asking their healthcare professional:

  1. How do I know my pain system is being overprotective?
     
  2. What can I do to retrain my pain system to be less protective?
     
  3. Am I safe to move, even if it hurts?
     
Bottom line

There is no magic pill or quick fix for persistent pain; however, science tells us that there’s a new sense of possibility with responses to persistent pain.

Recovery may be achieved by assisting patients to retrain their pain system to be less protective and withstand more load over time.

Teaching patients that outdated or passive approaches should be abandoned in favour of understanding the multi-layered nature of pain and how to actively manage it.

For more information, you can visit the Pain Revolution online resources and have a listen to the GMHBA podcast ‘Getting a grip on understanding pain with Professor Lorimer Moseley’.

About Pain Revolution

Pain Revolution is a movement charged with changing the way people understand pain, with a focus on education in rural and regional communities in Australia.

The vision of Pain Revolution is that every Australian will have the knowledge, skills, and local support to prevent and overcome persistent pain.

So, they seek to give people resources to master their own pain and to give clinicians the resources to deliver good pain care.

Popular not for profit health insurer and healthcare provider GMHBA, recently supported the Pain Revolution’s regional 2020 tour. To find out more visit Pain Revolution

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