Chronic pain is a major health issue for Australians.
Chronic pain is a major health issue for Australians. AlexRaths

Do you live with pain? You're not alone

CHRONIC pain is a major health issue for Australia, but few among the broader population and more importantly, among the medical profession, are aware of this issue.

Painaustralia chief executive officer Lesley Brydon is talking tough about the urgent need to promote early intervention and prevention of chronic pain at the primary care and community level.

"It's highly stigmatised, highly miss-understood and poorly treated," she said.

Ms Brydon said the medical profession's ability to help older Australians deal with pain was being hampered by a lack of education and training in its management.

To turn this around, a national education program for the whole community and for doctors is required.

"Over the last five years we have done a lot of work in developing education and training for doctors," Ms Brydon said.

"What we would like to see now is GPs better trained to manage people with chronic pain, with a team approach including a physio and, where necessary, a psychologist or podiatrist or dietician, for example.

"These are all of the things the Primary Health Care Review has recommended but we are a long, long way from having it put into practice.

"What we have in Australia is a GP-centric health care system, not a patient-centric system.

"We talk about patient-centred care, but we don't deliver it."

One in five Australians suffer from chronic pain during their lifetime. For those people over 65, the number suffering chronic pain increases to one in three.

Pain, categorised as either acute or chronic, are not mutually exclusive.

Acute pain is usually a signal that something is wrong with your body and something needs to be done about it. Usually it can be treated quite quickly and easily.

However, when the pain lasts longer than the normal time of healing, which is about three months, then it is re-designated as chronic pain.

"Then the problems kick in as chronic pain is very complex," Ms Brydon said.

"It is influenced by a whole lot of factors.

"Often there is no physical evidence of the chronic pain; it can be a curious symptom.

"There are enormous psychological factors which influences the way we experience pain.

"Our social, working and family environments can all provide some influence on the way you ultimately experience pain," said.

It's that very individual experience of chronic pain which doctors find frustrating and hard to treat.

A holistic pain assessment and management plan is the way forward, but waiting lists for multi-disciplinary pain management clinics are long and Medicare and private health insurance don't support these services.

As a consequence, people live with chronic pain have to pay for their treatment or find themselves relying on medications that can have serious side-effects.

Changes in pain management in Australia is slowly happening.

Painaustralia's National Pain Strategy, which provides a national framework for the treatment and management of pain, was introduced in 2010.

The organisation reports progress has been made to implement the strategy, nationally it has been fragmented and under-funded.

But, Ms Brydon said it is a starting point for change.

"Many organisations now acting in accordance with this strategy," she said.

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