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Chronic Pain- Is it Possible to go Drug Free?

March 10, 2017

As an Osteopath, when it comes to chronic pain, I’ve seen it all. The trouble is, I keep seeing it. In a perfect world our patients would all leave with a permanent fix to whatever their issue is, but in reality, some people get longstanding relief from their pain through treatment, and some don’t.

Those that don’t often then embark on a long and frustrating journey shopping around many practitioners and treatments. This can go on for months or years!!

I believe this is where the wheels tend to fall off a bit in how we manage musculoskeletal pain.

 How does Pain Become Chronic?

Chronic Pain is defined as being any pain that lasts longer than 3 or 6 months depending on where you get your definition. Either way, it is a function of time.

Chronic pain is about the body and mind adapting over time to the pain.

It could be that the nervous system just gets used to the pain signals and gets better at reporting pain.

It could be that poor movement continues to annoy the injured part long after most of the damage has healed.

Increased fear of recurrence from a person suffering from this pain could lead to avoiding normal activities, making them more inactive, unhappy and weaker. Which guess what? That’s right, leads to more pain!

Addressing the pain adaptation is so important. Even better, stopping you getting to the point of adaptation in the first place: nip the pain experience in the bud!

 A Costly – and Risky- Business

Chronic Pain costs Australia over $34 billions dollars a year 1with an estimated 6.9 million Australians suffering from some level of ongoing pain requiring treatment and often-ongoing medication.

Back pain alone affects around 3.7 million people with up to 80% of Australians experiencing back pain at some point in their lives.  That’s right, 80 percent! We’re doing something wrong.

We should be concerned by our over reliance on pain medication; reducing that alone should be motivation enough to try something new.  Common over-the-counter pain medications like Diclofenac have been linked to conditions such as stomach ulcers and even more seriously, blood clots in arteries. That’s not good! The fact is, medication should be limited to the smallest dose for the shortest time, but we know this isn’t what happens, people become reliant, and scared that if they stop taking medication, the pain will be worse. That’s human nature but it’s a mindset, and a mindset can be changed!

Mindfulness over Matter

We’re seeing some great results when we couple working with the head as well as the body. Mindfulness may seem a bit of a hokey way to look at pain when you’re in it, but hear me out.

If you have a good education and understanding of what your pain is and isn’t, it is easier to separate yourself from the experience of your pain.  As I said earlier, when we have a fear of pain returning, we will often pre-empt its arrival with medication or avoidance of movement or activities.

Everyone with ongoing pain has a “story” about what causes their pain and what that means. This naturally leads to other thoughts and emotions.

We use mindfulness to detach ourselves from this story and the thoughts and emotions it creates. We don’t care if the story, thoughts and emotions are “right or wrong”, “good or bad”. They just are.

For example, learning to just “watch” these thoughts and emotions without reacting to them can be so empowering. And can allow us to focus on what is really important – how we respond to the pain.

Movement is Essential

Our bodies are designed to move. They need to move. They want to move.

Yet our response to pain is to lock away movement to protect us from further damage.

This protection is driven by the muscles, it is well intentioned and useful soon after an injury, but ultimately not helpful in overcoming medium and long term pain.

If you have been in ongoing pain, you will know that it is not as simple as saying “ok, now go get moving”. There is a skill and science behind how to get moving again to overcome chronic pain – but you can let us worry about that!

But motion is lotion and a crucial ingredient in overcoming chronic pain.

Overcoming chronic musculoskeletal pain needs a rethink. A shake up!

It needs to take a more modern, holistic approach.

If you are sick of the ‘old game’ –  a lifetime of barely reduced symptoms, lack of mobility and reliance on medications, you can learn more by attending one of our Retrain Pain programs for those stuck in persistent musculoskeletal pain, for more information contact grant@pro-care.com.au https://pro-care.com.au/

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2015. 4364.0.55.001 – National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15. 2.Viewed 25 July 2016.