Understanding chronic pain…the invisible illness!

Chronic pain – pain that doesn’t go away after the injury or illness has resolved and lasts at least three months – is arguably Australia and the world’s fastest growing medical condition and is a significant issue affecting Australians. More than 3.2 million Australians of all ages live with this invisible illness. 

This National Pain Week runs from 27 July – 2 August, Chronic Pain Australia, the peak national grass-roots voice of Australians living with chronic pain, is encouraging all Australians to learn about pain and how to manage it, as well as better understand what it is like for someone living with chronic pain in case they develop pain themselves in later life. 

The theme of National Pain Week this year is Faces of Pain. As part of the campaign, Chronic Pain Australia is launching two new resources to help Australians understand and manage pain – a video series called Faces of Pain, which tells the stories of everyday Australians living with chronic pain, as well as a new booklet called Understanding chronic pain to explain what pain is and how best to manage it.

“We chose this theme because our community often speak of the stigma associated with chronic pain and the challenges they face because others can’t relate or understand what life is like with persistent pain. We hope by showing what it’s like to live with pain, people will also learn what they can do to manage pain if they ever develop it in the future,” said National President of Chronic Pain Australia Jarrod McMaugh.

The personal video stories come from a range of people from across the country, from different ages and backgrounds and with different experiences of developing, managing and learning to live with their chronic pain. 

“We’re really hopeful that the video series can give people who don’t live with pain an insight into what a day living with pain looks like and how everyday activities we all encounter in life can be made harder or impossible for someone living with chronic pain. We also want the video series to act as a source of inspiration for people currently living with pain to learn from their peers and to know that they aren’t alone in their pain journey,” said Mr McMaugh. 

The new booklet Understanding chronic pain helps to explain what pain is, how best to manage it and how to work alongside a multidisciplinary team of health professionals. 

“We know that when pain is managed well, it is only because a person living with pain has a great GP, pharmacist and are probably seeing some sort of allied health professional or specialist, but getting the right combination of health professionals to support you and making sure you are asking for the right types of support can be difficult. That’s why we have created our booklet,” said Mr McMaugh.

The booklet includes questions you can ask your health professionals including: 

Questions for GPs

  • What new treatment options are available that I should try?
  • The medications are not working, what other options are there for me?
  • Are there any other healthcare professionals you can refer me to in order to help manage my pain?
  • Are you able to co-ordinate a care team?
  • Are there any government subsidies that I can access, like a mental healthcare plan?

Questions for Pharmacists 

  • What side-effects are these medications likely to have?
  • Will these medications interact with anything else I am taking for pain management or other conditions?
  • Can I drive when taking these medications Will they affect my ability to work? 
  • My medications are causing side-effects, what should I do? 
  • The medication is not working, am I taking it correctly?
  • Are there any non-prescription therapies you can recommend for me? 

The booklet also list other ways people can help manage their pain which include:

  • Distraction techniques: Depending on the severity of the pain, distraction techniques can be helpful in taking the attention away from the pain 
  • Medication tips: Taking medications at the prescribed time and right dose is also crucial to ensuring they are as effective as they can be. There are aids available for those who may struggle with this. 
  • Mindset: Keeping a positive mindset and ensuring good sleep habits may reduce the burden of pain. You may need help with techniques to achieve this, so talking to your GP or mental health professional may be helpful.
  • Day to day techniques: Planning your day in advance and pacing activities will allow you break up your day and activities in manageable ways, allowing you to rest and avoid worsening your pain 

Mr McMaugh also said that it is important for everyone to understand what is meant by the term chronic pain and how it is different to acute pain. Chronic Pain Australia defines chronic pain as any pain lasting in the body for longer than three months.

“Many people think that chronic pain means extreme pain and although chronic pain can be really severe, ‘chronic’ actually refers to how long the pain lasts rather than how severe it is. It is also different to acute pain which is the pain many of us have experienced from time to time. We hurt ourselves, experience pain, then heal and the pain goes away,” said Mr McMaugh.

“Chronic pain is not in this category, it can last years or a lifetime. It can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life, their mental wellbeing and their ability to work, form relationships, and live a fulfilling life.” 

“However, by working with various, suitable health professionals and taking a long-term approach, people living with chronic pain may combat some of the effects it has on their lives and manage their pain the best way possible for them to have a fulfilling life ,” finished Mr McMaugh.

The ‘Faces of Pain’ video series and ‘Understanding your pain booklet is available at the National Pain Week website, as will the results of the National Pain Survey 2020.