Chronic pain – More than the physical aspect
According to Pain Australia, 1 in 5 Australians live with persisting pain – a rate that’s only set to rise as our nation’s population ages. It’s Australia’s third most costly health condition, and is a significant contributor of suicides.
Generally speaking the most common treatment for chronic pain is the prescription of opioids for pain relief. This in itself poses significant risk for the patient and does not cure chronic pain.
The Deloitte Access Economics’ report “The cost of pain in Australia – Painaustralia” 2019 states “Prescription opioid misuse caused an estimated 823 deaths in 2017-18”. It also highlighted that “there were an estimated 3,011 hospitalisations for prescription opioid misuse in 2017-18”. These startling figures clearly show that we need to rethink the way that we treat chronic pain.
So why do less than 10% of those suffering chronic non-cancer pain get the help they need to recover?
“Chronic pain is a huge burden that we can do something about” says Professor Lorimer Moseley, founder of Pain Revolution. “We know enough now about recovery, and we can do something about it if we flip the way we think about and understand pain, starting with a whole of community approach to modern pain education.”
If the goal sounds like an ambitious one, Moseley, a clinical scientist who researches pain in humans, understands this: where people know pain, they know gain. Two parts health promotion initiative and outreach program, one part very serious bike ride, his non-profit organisation seeks to change how pain is perceived by taking this message to the road. In March of this year, the Pain Revolution Rural Outreach Tour completed its third ride for pain awareness and community education – a gruelling, 700km cycle through Tasmania.
With public donations still rolling in, the 2019 ride has currently raised almost $100,000, 100% of which will go to educating and supporting regional and rurally-based healthcare professionals to serve their community and clinical colleagues with best practice pain education and care. This aim of capacity-building is chiefly conducted through the Local Pain Educator program, a community-based health promotion initiative that embeds high level knowledge and skills within Australia’s bush communities, exactly where chronic pain tends to be most prevalent and most impactful. On the eight-day ride from Devonport to Hobart, the Rural Outreach Program stopped in at 10 locations, delivering 20 free educational events and meeting with more than 1500 community members and health professionals.
“Most people understand pain to be something that comes from the tissues” says Amanda Simister, a physiotherapist, graduated Local Pain Educator and now mentor with the program. “But that’s really not true. Pain is really dependent on the context of a situation and how much credible evidence of danger a person’s brain is absorbing. That’s when we start to really look at their lives, exploring their story a lot more and seeing what other support they might need to work through some of the issues that might be providing significant danger messages to them.”
The central message of Pain Revolution is that pain, while inherently painful, should really be reconceptualised as a protector instead of as a damage detector. “Pain education is a really intrinsic part of therapy” says Simister. “It’s never a stand-alone therapy, of course. But it really marries up well with active strategies like graded movement and psychological therapies. Learning about pain gives control to the person in pain and this is critical – once they really understand, they can develop the resources to master their situation”.
AIA Australia Chief Group Insurance Officer Stephanie Phillips said “We know chronic pain affects almost 20% of the Australian population and as a Platinum sponsor of Pain Revolution, we are incredibly proud to support an organisation promoting pre-emptive, proactive and holistic approaches to health, wellness and recovery that’s relevant for so many people”.
Phillips added: “In Pain Revolution’s ambition to embed the capacity for best practice pain education and care within rural and regional communities, it perfectly aligns with AIA Australia’s mission to embrace shared value and champion Australia and New Zealand to be the healthiest and most protected nations in the world.”
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