Pain  - What is it and how it affects people in Australia

The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.

But pain is not just a physical sensation. It can be influenced by attitudes, beliefs, personality and social factors, and it can affect physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

When two people may have the same pain condition, their experience of living with pain can be vastly different.

There are two main types of pain: acute and chronic

Acute pain lasts for a short time and occurs following surgery or trauma or other condition. It acts as a warning to the body to seek help. Although it usually improves as the body heals, in some cases, it may not.

Chronic pain lasts beyond the time expected for healing following surgery, trauma or other condition. It can also exist without a clear reason at all. Although chronic pain can be a symptom of other disease, it can also be a disease in its own right, characterised by changes within the central nervous system. If pain is consistent for more three months—then it may be considered a chronic illness.

Conditions such as migraine, osteoporosis, arthritis and other musculoskeletal ailments are well recognised chronic diseases. Other, not so common or well known chronic pain conditions also include conditions related to nerve pain, pelvic pain, abdominal pain, facial pain and persistent post-surgical pain.

Sometimes acute pain can transition into chronic pain if it is untreated or poorly treated. This happens when neuroplastic changes occur within the nervous system, which make the body more sensitive to pain and can create sensations of pain even without external stimuli. The longer pain remains untreated, the greater the risk of the body becoming sensitised to pain, and the pain becoming chronic. Therefore, timely and effective treatment of acute pain is essential to prevent transition to chronic pain.

The effects of pain on people and healthcare in Australia

Pain is the most common reason that people seek medical help—yet it appears to remain one of the most neglected and misunderstood areas of healthcare. below are some statistics which are quite mind blowing.....

  • One in five Australians lives with chronic pain including adolescents and children. This prevalence rises to one in three people over the age of 65.

  • One in five GP consultations involves a patient with chronic pain and almost five percent report severe, disabling chronic pain.

  • The total economic cost of chronic pain in 2007 was estimated at more than $34 billion, including $11 billion productivity costs and $7 billion direct health care costs.

  • Chronic pain is Australia's third most costly health condition after cardiovascular diseases and musculoskeletal conditions (also associated with chronic pain).

  • Early intervention and adoption of evidence-based treatment could halve the economic cost of chronic pain, estimated at $34 billion.

  • The Faculty of Pain Medicine of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists reports that there are only 275 pain medicine specialists practicing in Australia and they are unable to meet the needs of 20% of the population. Twice as many palliative care physicians are trained every year compared with pain specialists.

  • There are only 12 paediatric pain specialists in the whole of Australia, and some jurisdictions have none at all.

  • As chronic pain is invisible, sufferers can feel misunderstood and stigmatised, by co-workers, friends, family and even the medical profession.

  • When someone with a chronic pain condition does not meet health professionals’ expectations of what constitutes an illness, their condition is often not taken seriously, and their personal legitimacy is compromised.

  • Common challenges faced by people with chronic pain are decreased enjoyment of normal activities, loss of function, role change and relationship difficulties.

  • One in five Australian adults with severe or very severe pain also suffer depression or other mood disorders.

  • One in three Australian adults with severe or very severe pain have high or very high levels of psychological distress. (If you need to speak to someone now, please call Lifeline 13 11 14).

So what can you do about pain?

Get the right treatment

Find a supportive and understanding GP, as they will be your primary point of contact for your pain condition. In collaboration with you, your GP can develop a Chronic Disease Management Plan. If you have associated mental health issues, you can also access help through a Mental Health Treatment Plan. They can also help you build a team of other health professionals to work with you and if needed they can refer you to appropriate specialists.

Self Management

One of the most important factors in managing pain is the role of you. Self-management is the best way to improve your level of activity, reduce disability and keep pain to a minimum.

When people take control over their pain, they feel empowered and able to resume normal activities or even learn something new.

The below three steps can help you get on track with self management:

  • Accept the pain. Accept that the pain is unlikely to disappear, but recognise that you can do things to minimise its impact on your life and reduce the severity of it.

  • Change the way you think about pain. When you realise that pain in itself is not harmful and learn not to react to it in a negative way you can “retrain your brain”.

  • Pace yourself. Incorporate a sufficient amount of activity every day and keep it at an even level throughout the day. This will help keep your body conditioned, keep your pain to a minimum and reduce the risk of flare-ups sparked by overactivity

Other Therapies and Strategies - This includes but is not limited to,

  • Neuromuscular Therapy

  • Reiki

  • Meditation and Relaxation,

  • Massage,

  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage

  • Hydrotherapy (including Epson Salt Baths),

  • TENS machines,

  • Mindfulness,

  • Spinal Cord Stimulation,

  • Arts and Music,

  • Psychology Sessions,

  • Yoga,

  • Sleep and many more.

Do you want to know more about any of the above and other services and resources that are on offer to support us with chronic pain issues?

Head over to the Pain Australia Website for a comprehensive overview on Pain, Coping Mechanisms, services and so forth.

Capri Clark is the founder of Bayside Remedial Massage and Healing in Brisbane. She holds a Bachelor Degree in Nursing and a Diploma in Remedial Massage. Capri's gentle techniques bring a huge amount of care and skill to her treatments. If you would like to book in for a session with Capri, you can click here.