One of my strongest areas of interest in my work as a Clinical Psychologist is helping people to understand and live with chronic health conditions, including chronic pain.
1 in 5 Australian adults and 1 in 4 Australian children live with a chronic pain condition. These statistics are alarming, and we still do not understand enough about chronic pain.
Chronic pain has been defined as any pain condition lasting longer than 3 months. In most cases, it is preceded by an injury or illness, however, sometimes no medical or situational trigger can be found.
One of the unfortunate things about chronic pain conditions is that, after some time, and without appropriate intervention (or even sometimes with) the constant pain signals to the brain can lead to a “rewiring” of the pain neural circuitry in the brain, often meaning that even when the body/tissue heals, the brain continues to detect pain, and this can worsen over time (so essentially the nervous system becomes hypersensitive to pain). This can be confusing and distressing for sufferers and their families, as they ask “how can my body be healing, and yet I still continue to feel pain that is worsening over time?”
This complexity has led to a lot of stigma for people with chronic pain conditions. As a society, we generally understand pain to be the result of injury and we expect it to resolve as the injury resolves. Because chronic pain conditions often break this mould, sufferers are often faced with suspicion and doubt from others, even including some health professionals.
Thankfully- there are treatments which can help. Research generally shows that people who engage a multi-disciplinary team of understanding health professionals tend to manage their pain better. Due to the complexity of chronic pain conditions it is important that it be assessed and treated thoroughly and holistically, including from biological, psychological and social perspectives.
If you suffer from chronic pain or know someone who does, speak to your doctor and get linked in with an appropriate treating team which may include physiotherapists, occupational therapists, pain specialists, neurologists, your GP, and a clinical psychologist who has experience with chronic pain management. Whilst not all chronic pain conditions can be cured, they can often be effectively managed when armed with the right knowledge, treatment plan, and treating team. Ultimately, your treating team will help you to learn ways to better self-manage your pain, so that it has less of an impact on your quality of life.
For further information on chronic pain and related services in Australia visit: http://www.chronicpainaustralia.org.au/index.php/national-pain-week
I have no doubt I will be writing further on this topic in the coming weeks 🙂
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