Health Medicine

Why is chronic pain so difficult to treat?

It comes as no surprise that pain medication is one of the most common prescribed and dispensed medications I hand over the counter. This may come as a shock to you but the realities are treating pain is more complex than popping a pill. So in light of raising awareness on this ‘painful’ topic, I thought I’d share with you some simple strategies that are recommended by health care professionals to ensure you can return to your true self as quickly as possible and avoid having to chronically manage your pain.

Psssstttt some of the facts below may shock. Some may be a little close to home. If so please seek the advice of your general practitioner to help get you on a path to a solution.

Pain….a chronic epidemic?

It is estimated that around 1 in 5 Australians suffer chronic pain with it’s prevalence rising to a staggering 1 in 3 in the over 65.1 Those seeking treatment for pain management will increase with our aging population together with the costs. According to Pain Australia, Chronic pain is Australia’s third most costly health condition after cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal conditions and is estimated at costing a staggering $34 billion (2007 data).

Pain is the most common ailment that people seek medical treatment for, yet the most misunderstood and at times difficult to treat condition in health care. Pain is invisible and at times sufferers can feel misunderstood and often stigmatised by those around them including the medical profession they seek treatment from.  

So what is pain?

According to the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) pain is defined as  ‘an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage’

And its complexity in treatment lies in the fact that pain cannot be interpreted as just the physical sensation.

Why is pain so complex to treat?

Our perception of pain is influenced by our beliefs and attitudes towards it, our personality and emotional and mental state, and in some cases our social state.

Two people could experience the same pain condition, such as a sore tooth, yet their life experiences with pain could be completely different. Therefore their perception on pain influences how it feels.

This is what makes pain difficult to treat.

Why is managing it so difficult?

Lack of resources, pain management specialists, access to services especially in rural and remote areas and long waiting times significantly contribute to its poor management and resulting deterioration in quality of life and the decline in ability to return to work.

Pain is also a significant contributor to mental health problems with 1 in 5 Australians who suffer from severe pain also suffering depression and mood disorders. 1 in 3 Australians with severe pain reporting to have high to very high psychological distress.

It is believed that early effective management with evidence based treatment could help reduce our chronic pain conditions. It is estimated that less than 10% of people with chronic non-cancer pain receive effective care despite the fact that current knowledge on the management of pain would allow 80% to be treated effectively if there was adequate access to services.

Management of pain requires a multidisciplinary approach between the patient, their medical professional, pharmacist, allied health professionals and in some cases psychologists.

Encouraging patients to understand their approach to pain, the different types that exist and that pharmaceutically treating it is only part of the equation when a patient initially seeks treatment can significantly diminish their length on suffering and speed of recovery depending on the source of pain.

 

Simple Strategies to Pain Management

Understand your approach to pain.
Accepting pain whilst reducing the associated fear and anxiety or low mood, reduces the struggle and energy spent on pain. Accepting pain does not mean losing hope!

Understand the different types of pain
There are many different types of pain that one can experience. Understanding the cause and type can affect your management including the specialist you seek, the medicine prescribed, movement that should be integrated into your recovery and if a psychologist may be required.

Correct and guided movement needs to be incorporated in your pain management
Improving function (e.g. one’s ability to engage in daily household tasks, work, socializing etc.) through movement and exercise like yoga, walking, swimming and cycling has profound beneficial ‘flow-on’ effects, including reduced disability, reduced depression and improved physical conditioning and increased quality of life according to painHEALTH. Depending on your type of pain it is best to seek the assistance of your specialist to ensure it is performed correctly.

Becoming Mindful in Pain
Meditation has been used for centuries in pain management. It has the ability to bring our minds to present, accept our current pain state and reduce our negatives thought processes that is associated our sensitivities to pain that can make pain feel worse. It also reduces the distress experiences during painful episodes and therefore decrease the intensity.

Seek effective, evidence based treatment
Seeking assistance with you pain at early stages can significantly help improve your recovery and reduce its severity. Avoiding delay in treatment is essential to this and seeking the advice of a medical practitioner can help get you started on the correct path to recovery.

About the author

Cara Little

Cara is a registered Pharmacist and has been in the health and wellness industry for over 10 years.

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