Sometimes Life Can Be a Pain
Living with Pain
Aristotle called pain the "passion of the soul." While our notions of pain may not may quite as romantic as Aristotle's, it is important for us to recognise the constructive functions of pain. Pain is the body's mechanism of self-preservation. It tells you when your finger is touching a hot pan or when a fall has resulted in an injury that requires your attention. In this way, pain acts as a warning sign to alert you when damage to your body is occurring or may occur. In fact, the inability to experience pain is a dangerous condition because injury can occur and go unnoticed. For example, one common complication of diabetes is the loss of sensation in the feet. Because of this, people living with diabetes are cautioned to check their feet daily so that injuries are not missed. Because they lack a pain sensation, diabetics might miss being alerted to an injury.
Types of Pain
‘Acute’ conditions are those which come on quickly and can usually be treated with medications or maybe surgery. Following a period of recovery, normal health returns. Examples of acute conditions include broken leg, appendicitis or gall bladder inflammation.
Chronic conditions tend to come on more slowly, sometimes taking years before specialist attention is sought as people often adapt to the symptoms (e.g. annoying aches and pains in the joints with arthritis or shortness of breath with heart problems).
Chronic conditions include:
- back pain
- heart conditions
- related depression
There are often no quick solutions to these conditions and rather than the illness itself, it is the associated problems of the condition which can have the greatest affect on daily life and personal relationships.
Chronic conditions can be accompanied by ongoing pain and tiredness that can lead to frustration and sometimes depression. Some people slow down or stop doing their routine tasks or activities, which in turn may lead to further disability.
Who suffers from pain?
An estimated 1 in 5 Australians suffer persistent pain – pain that continues for more than 3 months. People from all walks of life can suffer from persistent pain including children and the elderly. Pain has obvious human costs to patients, families, and communities.
There are also huge costs to the economy – 36.5 million lost workdays each year are attributed to people suffering from persistent pain. The total cost of lost workdays, health care, and associated costs add up to over $34 billion per year. This makes persistent pain one of the nation’s most costly healthcare problems.
Pain can kill
Acute pain can affect the heart, lungs, and other key body systems which can be life threatening. Unfortunately patients who continue to suffer severe pain contemplate or actually commit suicide. The effective treatment of cancer pain can actually prolong life by improving immune system function.
What is being done to help?
There has been an explosion of knowledge about pain and its treatment over the past 10 years, but much remains to be done for the many patients who continue to suffer persistent pain. The people who currently cannot be helped are in desperate need of the advances that current and future research can deliver.
The Pain Management Research Institute (PMRI) is conducting a multi-disciplinary basic and clinical research program involving over 40 scientists, which targets understanding the mechanisms of persistent pain as a disease. The research program aims to develop new treatments that specifically attack underlying abnormalities causing persistent pain to become a disease in itself, rather than a symptom.
New treatments for persistent pain will target the underlying problems rather than using pain medication, such as morphine, that purely provides symptomatic relief. This has an important advantage in restoring people to a normal range of everyday activities, without the troublesome side effects of current pain medications.
PMRI clinical research includes development of new drugs taken by tablet or injection but also by a range of other routes including via the lungs (inhaled), via the skin (transdermal), and via the spinal route.
Living with a chronic condition
Living with a chronic condition can be a challenge - but you are still in control of your life. Persistent pain has such profound effects on every aspect of a person’s life that a team of experts is needed to unravel this complex situation. Expert diagnosis frequently reveals problems to be addressed in multiple areas, including the physical, psychological and environmental (eg home, work etc). Being able to ‘self-manage’ a chronic condition, in partnership with health professionals, family, friends and carers, can minimise the severity of your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Self-management is about taking an active role in managing any long-term health condition. Self-management is not about doing it alone.
As with acute conditions, the role of appropriate health professionals (general practitioners, specialists, pharmacists, physiotherapists etc.) is very important in managing any chronic health condition.
What do I need to do to effectively self-manage my chronic condition?
To gain the skills and confidence to take control of your condition, you can:
learn all you can about your condition, its treatment and management;
ask about and understand your medications;
communicate your feelings with your health care providers;
incorporate suitable activity and fitness sessions into your day;
learn and practice relaxation techniques and problem-solving skills;
maintain a healthy diet, eating from the five food groups everyday;
deal with the fatigue, frustration and sometimes isolation that a chronic condition can bring with it;
find out about community support groups in your area; and
work out effective ways to manage your symptoms.
Chronic disease self-management courses
Chronic disease self-management courses teach you how to enhance your health and wellbeing, and take an active role in managing your chronic conditions.
A chronic disease self-management course will give you the tools to overcome the day to day challenges of living a healthy life with a chronic condition.
Attending a chronic disease self-management course can help you:
reduce your pain, fatigue and health distress;
increase your level of activity and exercise; and
gain greater confidence to continue to self-manage your condition.
Physiotherapists will use a broad range of treatments to treat your pain and stiffness, to increase muscle strength and maintain joint mobility. Physiotherapy treatments are often used in combination with an individual exercise program, massage, joint mobilisation and postural assessment.
Occupational therapists can advise you on how to best avoid over-stressing your arthritis-affected joints. They will look at aspects of your daily life, including activities around the home and leisure activities. By simplifying daily tasks you will be able to better protect your joints.
Good results can be achieved by well-trained, experienced chiropractors who use manipulation as a common technique to treat mechanical and degenerative spinal disorders.
Podiatrists treat problems of the feet. They can also advise you on footwear that will provide extra support and comfort.
Properly applied acupuncture has a role in the relief of pain, but it has not been established to be more effective than physiotherapy or anti-inflammatory medication.
This treatment consists of a wide range of soft tissue stretching, massaging and relaxation techniques, as well as manipulative therapy for specific spinal joints and soft tissues.
Pain, stiffness and inflammation are hallmarks of arthritis. You may find exercise, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and rest can help, but medication may often be required under a doctor’s supervision.
There are many strategies and treatments to choose from if you live with arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions, including:
We all can benefit from regular exercise. If you are affected by arthritis, exercise is particularly important – even light exercise can help you maintain joint mobility and health.
Regular exercise helps by:
decreasing the arthritis pain in your joints;
preventing your joints from becoming stiff;
maintaining and increasing the range of movement in your joints;
strengthening muscles and bones – helping you to take the load off your joints and making them more stable;
decreasing or relieving muscle tension – tension adds to the pain of arthritis and in the long-term can lead to poor posture and deformity; and
improving your posture and balance – this will take weight off affected joints, and reduce your risk of falling.
Types of exercise
Not all forms of exercise are appropriate for every kind of arthritis. Before you start it is important to ask your doctor to help you develop a program that will suit your type of arthritis, physical health and lifestyle.
Generally you will need to do a mix of three types of activities:
Mobility exercises - designed to improve or maintain the range of movement of your joints. Involves moving each joint as far as it will comfortably go and then stretching it just a little further – but not to the point of pain.
Strengthening exercises - Designed to improve the power of your muscles. Strong muscles help to support your joints.
Fitness (aerobic) exercises - These exercises will benefit the heart, lungs and your general wellbeing. Fitness exercises are usually ‘whole body’ type of exercises rather than for a specific joint, for example, walking, yoga, water exercises and swimming.
Feel free to drop in and speak to our friendly staff about your pain management