Focus on function should be priority

Persistent pain that lasts over three months is commonly called “chronic pain”.

BEST PRACTICE: Specialist Dr John Prickett, from Northern Integrated Pain Management, utilises a multidisciplinary approach to chronic pain treatment.

BEST PRACTICE: Specialist Dr John Prickett, from Northern Integrated Pain Management, utilises a multidisciplinary approach to chronic pain treatment.

Chronic pain is distinguished from acute pain which is a more normal part of life e.g. a skinned knee, a bone fracture.

Like all other chronic diseases, chronic pain should be managed with the focus being on optimising function rather than a continual focus on trying to find the “broken part”, searching for a cure or elimination of symptoms.

The chronic pain condition is often related to and complicated by other issues such as:

  • Reduced activity and exercise levels
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Personal, family, work and financial stress

“It’s important that when seeking treatment for a chronic pain condition, your treating specialist understands how chronic pain affects both the individual and their families,” says Dr John Prickett, from Northern Integrated Pain Management (NIPM), in Newcastle.

Dr Prickett is a specialist anaesthetist with over 15 years of experience in all aspects of anaesthesia and pain management.

“Whilst some chronic pain problems can be relatively simple to treat, others require an integrated approach,” he said. “Effective treatment is guided by a patient-centred approach and ideally involves a team including exercise physiologists/physiotherapists, psychologists, clinical nurses and doctors, and where required, other services including surgical review, rehab, psychiatric and medical specialists.”

Utilising this approach for pain is known as “Multidisciplinary Pain Management”.

“Often pain-specific procedural techniques or other strategies can help the patient achieve the greatest outcome,” Dr Prickett said. “Similarly, for some patients, overcoming fear of movement and improving pain-coping techniques and managing anxiety and depression are important components.”

Most  patients at NIPM will access some or all of the following approaches:

  • Advice about physical strategies and exercise; 
  • Psychological strategies to aid coping with the challenging situation; 
  • Procedures or medications to reduce pain; 
  • Group-based pain management courses;
  • Other treatments where appropriate e.g surgery or rehabilitation. 

“Analgesic medications can assist in pain management, but only really if they are helping to improve function,” Dr Prickett said. “Over time they appear (and the evidence supports this concept), that they become less effective, and the risks tend to outweigh the benefits.”  

It is not uncommon for a person with chronic pain to experience anxiety, loss of control, irritability, frustration, depression, anger or guilt. Although understandable, these emotions tend to exacerbate pain signals.

Pain specialists and their team help chronic pain sufferers how to re-evaluate the pain, so rather than experiencing it with fear and anger, it is normalised, demystified and less distressing.

For more information, phone Northern Integrated Pain Management on (02) 4923 8900 or visit www.newcastlepainmanagement.com.au.