Managing chronic pain

Managing chronic pain with mind and body

Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation 20 November 2019

Living with chronic pain is both an emotional and physical burden that can be all-consuming.

While medication can bring some relief, veteran and general practitioner Dr Phil Parker says mindset and behaviour can play a significant role in pain management.

Chronic pain is such a common occurrence among veterans it’s almost considered ‘part and parcel’ of life after service. On top of the significant impact on daily function and quality of life, chronic pain can take a serious toll on your mental health.

Countless veterans have experienced the impact chronic pain has on their mind, but many may not have experienced the transformative benefit their mind can have on  managing their pain.

GP Ambassador of the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation (GMRF) Dr Phil Parker is a veteran and general practitioner based in Brisbane who treats numerous veterans and civilians struggling with chronic pain.

Managing chronic pain

“It’s a common problem – around 11 per cent of all GP encounters in Australian involve chronic pain. It can be challenging for a patient to achieve control of the pain. I’ve seen many patients who get to a point where they’re desperate for anything that might fix the problem quickly,” Dr Parker says.

“The impact of chronic pain goes far beyond the physical aspect. It can impact your mood, limit motivation to look after yourself, increase fatigue and have a detrimental effect on performing work duties and maintaining personal relationships.”

Medication plays a role in pain management, but GPs and other allied practitioners also try to support patients in ways aimed at providing longer-term benefit – such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

Dr Parker says a lot of veterans endure the pain because they think there is nothing they can do about it. He assures them that in most instances this is not the case – while it may not reduce your pain altogether, your mindset and your behaviour can play a significant role in your pain management.

If you suffer from chronic pain, it is important to remember that while there may not be ‘cures’, there is help available. There are several specialised programs aimed at helping chronic pain sufferers to live the best lives possible.

The Wellness Centre based at Greenslopes Private Hospital (GPH) offers a six-week program to veterans and civilians who suffer from chronic pain. The Independent Management of Pain through Activity and Cognitive Therapy (IMPACT) Program, takes a multidisciplinary approach to equipping chronic pain sufferers to self-manage their condition.

Occupational Therapist on the IMPACT Program, Jenny Pashley, works with veterans and civilians on the program and says there is hope for sufferers if they have a proactive mindset to the treatment and management of their pain.

Managing chronic pain

“It’s about understanding the complexity of your own pain journey and identifying contributing factors. People with a military background are used to ‘pushing through’, but pacing exercise and movement is crucial to retrain the system rather than a boom and bust approach,” Jenny says.

“Some people can become quite fearful of movement because of the pain, which reduces mobility and increases the severity of the chronic pain. We teach cognitive behavioural techniques, where patients learn ways of movement that don’t cause pain to flare up, which reintroduces confidence in increasing activity levels.”

GMRF provided grant funding for Jenny and other staff at the Keith Payne Unit at GPH to conduct research into the psychological and functional outcomes of the IMPACT Program in 2015.

“The research showed that veterans who completed the IMPACT Program had a significant reduction in measures of anxiety, stress and depression than the veteran control group,” Jenny says.

“We’ve had some people through the program who have become pain free, but mostly it’s about increased activity, managing the pain and reducing the amount of pain medication, which leads to an improved quality of life.”

The IMPACT Program is based on pain specialist referrals. If you are interested in finding out more about the program, contact 07 3394 7030.

GMRF is currently recruiting for several research studies investigating treatments and therapies aimed at enhancing the health and wellbeing of veterans and their families. Find out more.

Learn more or support GMRF.

Managing chronic pain

If you or someone you know is affected by chronic pain, Dr Parker’s general advice is:

  • Reduce your alcohol intake - Any numbing effect alcohol may have is negated by a long-term worsening of pain and heightened pain sensitivity.
  • Identify areas of your life that cause you stress - A demanding job or long working hours with minimal rest periods can contribute to worsening chronic pain.
  • Focus on sleep - Chronic pain can lead to poor sleep, just as poor sleep can lead to chronic pain. Developing a good sleep routine and hygiene practices to improve sleep quality can lead to a reduction of pain sensitivity during the day.
  • Exercise - It may be the last thing you feel like doing when you have chronic pain, but exercise has a demonstrated benefiting to reducing chronic pain. It is important for exercise to be developed as part of a plan and preferably under the supervision of a physiotherapist.
  • Get your family involved - Family can play an important role in encouraging socialisation, adherence to exercise and sleep routines, and discouraging alcohol.
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