Do you know pain?

National Pain Week
21-27 July 2014

Image Credit: Tearsintherain via flikr under cc

‘Pain is Ageless’ is the theme for this years National Pain Week, an initiative of Chronic Pain Australia. It aims to bring awareness that chronic pain affects not only the individual but also their family and friends and it does not discriminate, it can affect people of any age and background.¹

What is pain?
Pain is something that all of us have experienced, to some degree, at some time in our life. Pain is a completely subjective experience, making it very difficult to define by a list of symptoms. 
It can't be detected or measured by any existing technology. 
X-rays, CT's and MRI's only show changes to the tissue, but not what pain it might cause. Often pain exists with no detectable change to the body tissues.

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

It is really important to note from this definition is that pain may not be actual damage but a warning of threat of harm. This is often the case, particularly with more long lasting pain.

Pain can be simplified into categorised into four main types
  • Acute pain: Lasts for a short period of time. Often it occurs as a result of surgery, trauma or other condition. It acts as a warning that the body needs time to repair. At this stage health care professionals may have good advice and be able to help manage the pain.
  • Sub-acute pain: This is the phase when acute pain begins to progress to chronic pain. During this stage, treatment may help prevent this progression.
  • Recurrent pain: Occurs in a cycle. Examples include migraines and pelvic pain.
  • Chronic pain: Lasts over an extended period of time, usually longer than 3 months. It is associated with increased levels of pain and may also affect surrounding tissue and nerves not just the area of injury.

There are more complex categorisations of pain that are growing in their use as our understanding of pain science increases, but in order to avoid information overload they will not be discussed in this article.

Acute pain has the potential to progress to chronic pain when left untreated or under-treated. Ongoing pain has the ability to alter nerve pathways, which can result in an over active nervous system. The normal mechanisms that are responsible for blocking and reducing pain can be inhibited, resulting in routine activities causing pain.²

Chronic Pain
After an injury or surgery most people expect that the pain associated with these cases will gradually go away (acute pain). Unfortunately, for 1 in 5 Australians this is not the case and their pain persists over an extended period of time. Chronic pain impacts the individual physically, emotionally and socially, often interfering with their daily functions.³

Of those who suffer with chronic pain, approximately 13% have no medical explanation for their pain. This can be very frustrating for the individual and it can result in a feeling of isolation due to the stigma and lack of awareness in the community. Although the original injury causing the pain may have healed, it is still very real and has a significant impact.⁴

Chronic Pain Management
Image Credit: Wintersixfour via Morgue Files under cc
The primary objective of pain management is to reduce the impact and disability the pain may cause, helping to improve the quality of life.

The most common treatment for chronic pain is the use of prescription medication, however recently the American Society of Anesthesiologists have published recommendations that pharmacologic intervention should not be prescribed as a first treatment option, instead physical therapies should be the initial response to treatment of chronic pain.⁵

At Be Smart Get Supple we offer a variety of physical therapies that may be helpful for pain management, these include Physiotherapy, Acupuncture, Osteopathy, Chiropractic and Massage therapy. Our practitioners utilise a variety of evidence based techniques and equipment, both traditional and modern, to assist in pain relief.

Acupuncture is generally considered helpful for pain relief in many circumstances. Researchers have found that it calms down areas in the brain that are responsible for processing pain by changing specific neural structures. To find out more click here.  Among other things Acupuncture encourages the release of endorphins (your happy hormones), which act as a natural pain killer as well as promoting your body’s own self healing properties.⁶

Physiotherapy, Chiropractic and Osteopathy are all focused on increasing blood flow, soothing tissue irritation, restoring function and encouraging the body’s self healing capacity to help resolve the pain. Our practitioners provide advice on pain management strategies and help you return to your normal activities safely. All treatments are tailored to your individual symptoms but may include massage, ultrasound, interferential therapy, Biomesotherapy (Brendon Supple only) and manual manipulations as well as prescribe exercises to assist your recovery.

Ultrasound uses sound waves which vibrate the body tissue to reduce inflammation, improve tissue strength, stimulate cells to reduce local irritants and help calm nerve cells.
Interferential Current Therapy (IFT): Aims to prompt a pain relieving response from the body through the application of a low frequency electrical current that is passed through the skin via electrodes. It is believed that this can help reduce pain by blocking the transmission of pain signals or by stimulating the release of endorphins.⁷
Biomesotherapy: Involves placing sterile saline solution (same composition as our natural body fluid) under the skin to help stimulate your body’s natural healing capabilities.⁸

Tips to Help Manage Pain
It is important to recognise that your thoughts, emotions and actions all affect the pain you experience, your role in managing your symptoms is essential.

Here a few tips for helping you manage your pain levels
  • Ask for help: Reach out for advice when you need it. Talk with your healthcare professional or call Chronic Pain Australia (02 9481 0189) for support and understanding
  • Use relaxation techniques: This is different to just relaxing, it aims to calm the mind which helps to calm the pain. During stress your muscles tighten which can increase pain levels, deep breathing and meditation are examples of techniques that can reduce stress and help you manage your pain. Find something that works for you.
  • Set realistic goals: Focus on your abilities and set goals that are achievable and discuss with your healthcare professional . Break down larger goals into smaller more manageable goals. Most importantly celebrate your success.
  • Get a good nights sleep: This can be difficult if you are experiencing pain but it is essential that you get the rest your body needs. Click here for more information about sleep and our top 10 tips for increasing the likelihood of getting a good nights sleep.⁹

  • Challenge negative thoughts: It is important for you to question every negative thought and belief you have about your pain. This will help manage your pain and help decrease the risk of depression.¹º For more information about depression, its symptoms, and tips to help improve your mood click here
  • Remember NOT ALL pain is harm: especially in the case of chronic pain. The chronic nature of the pain means it often lasts beyond when the tissue has repaired. While at times there is still degenerated tissue (e.g. arthritis) the pain does not mean that you are doing harm. Pain is a signal of a PERCEIVED threat of harm - this can be physical or emotional. It is important to get professional advice to help know what pain to listen to and which can be pushed through. 
  • Seek education and understanding of the pain: Chronic pain can be managed much more better with the understanding of what is happening in the body and nervous system with chronic pain.

If you suffer from chronic pain, or it seems things are not recovering the way you should you may benefit from advice from a health professional. Similarity if you are looking for ways to improve the quality of life with chronic pain some advice may be of assistance. To learn more call us on 8346 3495 to book an appointment.

1. Chronic Pain Australia. (2014). Pain is ageless
2. Pain Australia. (n.d.) Fact sheet 1: The nature and science of pain
3. Australian Pain Management Association (2013) What is chronic pain?
4. Pfizer (2011). Health report: Chronic pain.
5. COCA (2014) On choosing wisely. COCA Newsletter vol.20, 1
6. State Government of Victoria (2014). Pain Management
7. Electrotherapy on the web. (n.d.). Interferential Therapy
8. Australasian Association of Homotoxicology. (n.d.) Biomesotherapy: Helping your body heal
9. Janssen-Cilag (2008). Coping with persistent pain
10. Anxiety Treatment Australia. (2014). Chronic pain management psychologist