Whether you live with it or not, everyone should be aware of chronic pain. Chronic pain is a daily struggle for millions of people around the world, so if you’re not living with it, chances are someone you know or care about will be.
1 in 5 Australians over 45 years old are currently living with chronic pain — that’s over 3.6 million people! Chronic pain refers to persistent discomfort that lasts for weeks, months, or even years, and it can be caused by various medical conditions or injuries.
Unfortunately, chronic pain is not just a physical ailment — it can also take a significant toll on your emotional well-being, social life, and overall quality of life. Yet, there is still widespread misunderstanding of chronic pain, with 1 in 2 sufferers experiencing stigma because of their condition.
The lack of validation and recognition of this challenging condition by the government, employers and the general public pushed advocates, healthcare professionals, and organisations to come together to create National Pain Week.
Running from 24-30 July in 2023, National Pain Week is an annual event that raises awareness about chronic pain, promotes better understanding, and provides support to those affected by this complex and challenging health problem.
As National Pain Week gains momentum, so too can public awareness of new treatments for chronic pain, including medicinal cannabis which has shown to be an effective pain management tool for some patients with less side effects than many other common analgesic medications.
For National Pain Week this year, Polln will explore the significance of National Pain Week, help our readers understand what chronic pain is and why it matters, and explain some potential treatments for chronic pain that could help millions of people across Australia.
Let’s get the conversation started.
Understanding Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is characterised by pain that lasts for an extended period, usually beyond three to six months, or beyond the time expected for the resolution of an injury or illness. Unlike acute (short-term) pain, which has a protective mechanism warning us of physical harm, chronic pain continues long after the initial cause has stopped, leading to a complex — and frustrating — medical condition that can be difficult to treat.
Chronic pain affects people of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life. It is estimated that around 20% of Australian adults have chronic pain, making it a significant public health concern that deserves more dedicated healthcare, more research, and more public awareness.
Causes and Types of Chronic Pain
No one issue or accident causes chronic pain. Instead, chronic pain can have various underlying causes, from old injuries to recently diagnosed health conditions. Chronic pain often results from a complex interplay of physiological, psychological, and environmental factors, meaning that when chronic pain strikes, doctors should take the time to fully investigate all possible causes in influencing factors (like stress or fatigue).
- Musculoskeletal Pain: This type of pain originates from the muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, and other supporting structures in the body. Conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and low back pain fall under this category.
- Neuropathic Pain: Caused by nerve damage or malfunction, neuropathic pain can be intense and debilitating. Examples include diabetic neuropathy, post-herpetic neuralgia, and sciatica.
- Inflammatory Pain: Resulting from inflammation in the body, this type of pain is often associated with conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Mechanical Pain: Mechanical pain arises from physical pressure, stress, or damage to the musculoskeletal system. It can result from injuries, poor posture, overuse, or trauma, leading to conditions such as tendinitis, sprains, and herniated discs.
The Impact of Chronic Pain on Patients' Lives
Chronic pain is so much more than a physical problem — it can significantly impact all areas of a patient's life, including their social lives, mental health, sexual wellbeing and a patient’s overall quality of life.
Living with chronic pain can lead to a cycle of decreased mobility, limited activities, and less social interactions, which, in turn, can contribute to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, chronic pain can get in the way of productivity, affect job performance, and strain personal relationships.
The constant struggle to manage pain can prevent people from being able to fully participate in daily activities they once enjoyed — and even sleep can be affected, further worsening the toll chronic pain can take on mental health.
Current Chronic Pain Treatments
Conventional approaches to chronic pain management often include a combination of medications, physical therapy, and psychological interventions. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, and muscle relaxants are commonly prescribed to alleviate pain, but these medications may come with side effects and the risk of dependency.
Natural treatments for chronic pain include medicinal cannabis, acupuncture, mind-body techniques, like meditation and mindfulness, and herbal supplements, such as turmeric and ginger.
Physical therapy and rehabilitation programs can also help improve function and reduce pain, while cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can help patients develop coping strategies and improve their psychological well-being.
Medical Cannabis and Chronic Pain
Many chronic pain patients may find relief, both in terms of their pain management and improved sleep, from medicinal cannabis treatments. Medicinal cannabis, also known as “medical marijuana” (learn more about the importance of cannabis language here), has gained significant attention in recent years for its potential therapeutic benefits in managing chronic pain.
Research has shown that medicinal cannabis can provide significant relief against chronic pain. Additionally, medicinal cannabis may be a good option for some people who have found conventional treatments to be ineffective or want to avoid side effects or the potential for opioid addiction.
One study showed that patients who were prescribed medicinal cannabis were able to manage their chronic pain and reduce their opioid use by 64%. Better yet, they were able to improve their overall quality of life and reduce their medication side effects. Seeing as one of the main treatments to chronic pain are opioids, medicinal cannabis provides a hopeful, natural alternative that is safer and effective.
As with any other medication, there are potential side effects associated with medicinal cannabis. Short-term side effects related to THC can sometimes include anxiety, panic, disorientation or changes to memory and attention. Patients with psychiatric illnesses, such as schizophrenia, are typically recommended not to start a course of medicinal cannabis as it may worsen condition symptoms.
If you’re experiencing chronic pain and are interested in exploring natural therapies such as medicinal cannabis, speak to an experienced cannabis clinician who can help you find a treatment that works for you.
National Pain Week: Shining a Spotlight on a Global Issue
National Pain Week started as an annual event with a mission to raise awareness about the prevalence and impact of chronic pain on individuals worldwide. This initiative was created by the collective efforts of patient advocacy groups, healthcare professionals, and organisations dedicated to supporting those living with chronic pain conditions.
Why does National Pain Week matter? Because by taking the time to recognise chronic pain, we can foster greater understanding and empathy, and destigmatize this challenging condition for chronic pain sufferers worldwide.
The goals of National Pain Week include:
- Raising Awareness: National Pain Week strives to increase public awareness about chronic pain's prevalence, impact, and potential treatment options. Through educational campaigns, media outreach, and community events, the initiative seeks to foster empathy and understanding among the general public and policymakers.
- Empowering Patients: Empowerment is a key focus of National Pain Week, encouraging individuals living with chronic pain to take an active role in their pain management journey. By providing access to reliable information and resources, the event aims to equip patients with the tools they need to make informed decisions about their health and well-being.
- Advocating for Improved Care: National Pain Week advocates for better support and care for chronic pain patients. It calls for increased research funding, improved access to innovative treatments, and the development of evidence-based guidelines to enhance pain management strategies.
How to Get Involved in National Pain Week
During National Pain Week, keep an eye out for various events and campaigns organised by local communities, healthcare providers, and advocacy groups. If you want to get involved, try get in touch with:
- Your Local Pain Patient Support Groups: Local and online support groups provide a safe space for chronic pain patients to share experiences, exchange coping strategies, and find emotional support. Often they will have additional activities and events to show their support for National Pain Week.
- Contact an Advocacy Group: National Pain Week serves as a platform for patient advocates groups to lobby for policy changes and greater recognition of chronic pain as a significant public health concern. Chronic Pain Australia and Pain Australia create programs every year for patients and healthcare professionals to take part in.
- Share Your Experiences and Knowledge: You don’t have to be part of an official group to take part in National Pain Week! This week is all about raising awareness however you can: share a post on your social media, talk to your friends and family about chronic pain, or share an informative article to your circle of friends. Every conversation counts.
The Wrap Up
National Pain Week is an important event in our annual calendar, shedding light on the global issue of chronic pain and its profound impact on millions of individuals worldwide. By bringing together patient advocacy groups, healthcare professionals, and organisations, it strives to raise awareness, promote understanding, and empower those affected by chronic pain.
This National Pain Week, think about your own ability to foster empathy and support for chronic pain sufferers while also advocating for improved care, research funding, and access to innovative treatments.
As we come together to rethink chronic pain, let’s also explore more options for ongoing pain management, and enhancing the quality of life without extensive side-effects. Whether you’re directly affected by chronic pain or not, your involvement in National Pain Week can make a big difference. Every conversation and act of support contributes to the greater understanding and compassion needed for individuals battling chronic pain every day.
Make a difference — share this article or talk to someone about chronic pain today.
A Note From Dr Melissa Catanzarite, MBBS
Living with chronic pain can be an incredibly challenging experience, both physically and emotionally. Chronic pain is more than just a physical ailment; it is often an invisible illness that impacts everything from your physical health, to your emotional wellbeing and your ability to be present in your day to day life. The constant discomfort, fatigue, and limitations it imposes can lead to feelings of frustration, helplessness, and even isolation.
The connection between chronic pain and mental health is complex. Chronic pain can exacerbate existing mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, or it can be a trigger for the development of these conditions in previously healthy people. The perpetual stress and emotional toll of dealing with pain can lead to emotional instability, difficulty concentrating, and a reduced sense of pleasure or purpose in daily life.
As you navigate your diagnosis and journey, please remember that seeking support is crucial. Reaching out to others who understand your struggles can make a significant difference. Sharing your feelings and experiences can help in alleviating feelings of isolation and help foster an overall sense of belonging. Engaging in hobbies and activities that bring you joy and a sense of purpose can also be beneficial in enhancing your mental health, even if they are done a bit slower than before.
Most importantly, practising self-compassion is vital. Living with chronic pain can feel defeating and may lead to feelings of guilt or self-blame. Remember that you are doing the best you can, you can only take things one step at a time. This is your journey and you cannot compare yourself to anyone else, they are on their own timeline. Be kind to yourself, acknowledge your accomplishments, no matter how small, and celebrate your resilience in the face of adversity.
Take care of yourself and remember that healing takes time. There is hope for better days ahead.
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