Stopping the ‘pain drain’


Chronic pain is a massive health issue in Australia, afflicting one in five Australians, with an estimated cost to the economy of upwards of $34 billion a year in medical costs and lost productivity, a figure that has doubled in the eight years between 2009 and 2017. Additionally, the cost of pain medication has risen over 50% in the same timeframe.

Chronic mismanagement

What’s even more alarming is that an estimated 80% of sufferers miss out on treatment that could improve their pain. Even though there are universally recommended and accepted clinical practice guidelines, studies have consistently shown that chronic pain sufferers are more likely to be given inappropriate and expensive tests and medications rather than appropriate care.

Missing out on best practice health care is bad enough, but the impact is multiplied when you consider that instead of being put on a path to reduce their pain, sufferers are more likely to instead develop multiple risk factors for chronic disease like declining activity and weight gain which further entrenches their misery.

What does good care look like for chronic pain?


Lifestyle factors increase the risk of developing chronic pain, which again highlights the madness of the recent government decision to scrap the health fund rebate on yoga and Pilates amongst other complementary therapies.

Multi-modality care

Best practice care for someone with chronic pain addresses the cause of the pain on multiple levels. Chronic pain is often complex, meaning effective treatment can require consideration of a range of factors including: physical, psychological (mood and beliefs), and social (relationships, environment and culture).

Chronic pain is an area that, more than any other, calls for a holistic and collaborative model of health care, whether that means the more conventional team of physiotherapist, neurologist and psychologist, or drawing on the complementary medical sphere to include acupuncture, osteopathy or remedial massage.

Each case of chronic pain is unique so will require an individually tailored treatment; nevertheless, an approach that seeks to address the whole person: body, mind and emotions is imperative.

Change the brain to heal the pain

There is also tremendous research, led by likes of Dr John Sarno and Professor Howard Schubniner, that supports the use of ‘mind-body’ approaches to resolving chronic pain, which teach pain sufferers techniques that rewire the brain and switch off the unconscious activation of neural pathways that can perpetuate pain.

There are multiple known solutions to chronic pain. If you or someone you love is affected, then be reassured that change and improvement are possible with appropriate care.

Editor’s note: Our rotating wellbeing and fitness columns provide advice that is general in nature. Please always refer to your preferred health professional for advice suited to your personal healthcare requirements.

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