Pain researchers from the University of South Australia have teamed with insurer AIA Australia to develop an effective coaching program for chronic pain sufferers, likely to return people to life and work sooner.

AIA Australia national wellbeing manager Simonie Fox said the collaboration with pain scientists showed “remarkable” results for both case managers and customers by educating people on the causes of chronic pain – a significant part of total and permanent disability and income protection claims.

“This is a really amazing opportunity for us. This will be a game changer in our industry,’’ Fox said.

Speaking at Investment Magazine’s Group Insurance Summit on Navigating pain: internal resilience and external support, Fox hoped insurers and health practitioners would follow AIA Australia’s lead on encompassing the latest pain science into case management.

“Customers will get stuck in claims. These people should be recovering and we know they are dealing with chronic pain and remaining on claim.

“We have an opportunity to support these customers who previously haven’t been able to recover,’’ she said.

The insurer saw “phenomenal” results one month after introducing pain coaching sessions to customers. Customers’ visual analogue pain scale (VAS) reduced in 33 per cent of customers after treatment, while there had been a 44 per cent increase in the patient specific functional scale (PSFS) showing more people had increased their activity.

“We’re literally helping people get their lives back and improving conditions in their return to work journey,’’ Fox said.

The insurer now has 409 people receiving coaching with 170 completing five sessions.

University of South Australia pain scientist Professor Lorimer Moseley said pain is a protector which changes people’s behaviour in order to protect a body part from experiencing pain and keeping it out of danger.

But this evolutionary protection mechanism was “probably the most compelling illusion” people had produced, evidenced by a Swiss woman, born with no arms, who began experiencing phantom hand pain in her 40s among other cases.

He said the nervous system was responsive to training to reduce chronic pain, long after body tissues had recovered.

“The system is responsive to training. We can retrain it to be less sensitive again,’’ he said.

Moseley said the best treatments for chronic pain were not drugs, surgery or electronic devices but were grounded in good education.

“Where this is important for you in insurance is you’re spending a significant amount of money on clients in persistent pain,’’ Moseley said.

The best treatments for chronic pain were active – things people do, such as meditation or exercise, rather than have them done to them, such as massage or physiotherapy.

“We’ve moved away from pain being treated by therapists to switch a person in pain being coached towards recovery,’’ Moseley said.

“From my perspective as a professor of pain science, I’m passionate about people in pain taking a journey of recovery. It’s exciting.’’

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