Dr Norman Swan: Hello, I’m Norman Swan. We’ve all experience pain at some stage of our lives, and it certainly doesn’t discriminate. Pain can be acute, chronic, or caused by diseases such as cancer. A week in July is dedicated to pain awareness and our focus is on chronic pain. One in five Australians live with chronic pain and this includes teenagers and children. And as our population ages, so does the prevalence of chronic pain so that one in three people over the age of 55 experience it. Chronic pain interferes with all aspects of life and daily activities, work relationships, and affects not only our personal finances but also the national economy. The need for further research and understanding of pain is without question. Unlike acute pain, where there’s an underlying cause, chronic pain may not be due to an obvious injury or a disease that will get better if it’s fixed. Chronic pain is a disease in its own right. It’s far more complex than acute pain, with sensory and emotional connections influencing the pain experienced. And it usually lasts longer than three months.
Manuela Ferreira (Associate Professor Sydney University; Research Fellow, Institute of Bone and Joint Research): After I had my second baby, I developed back pain. It’s a recurrent problem. And I know when I have it, it’s hard to move when I have it, so what I usually do is avoid staying in the same position for too long, so if I know or if I feel my back pain coming back, I’ll go for short walks, frequent but short walks, I’ll go outside and try to change positions as frequently as I can. At work for example, stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down. But avoid sitting down for too long or sitting on the couch for too long or even standing for too long.
Dr Norman Swan: Chronic pain management requires a multi-disciplinary approach. Usually, a combination of medical, physical, and psychological therapies. Medication, although effective in some instances, should not be the immediate go-to treatment, and it should never be considered as lifelong therapy. Medication should always be used in combination with other treatments.
Assoc Prof Manuela Ferreira: So, we now know that for back pain we need to move, so that’s what patients need to do. So, medication could be an aid, could be helping them to go back to moving a bit faster, but it shouldn’t be the focus of their treatment. So, any management that involves going back to work, moving, physical activity, learning how to cope with pain, so that’s what the focus is now.
Dr Norman Swan: But one of the most important factors in managing chronic pain is taking charge of it, accepting your pain, retraining your brain to think about it differently, pacing yourself, including activities in your day but at a level that avoids flare-ups.
Assoc Prof Manuela Ferreira: Avoid the same position for too long, whether it’s sitting or standing, go for a short walk, try to move your back. Sometimes if you sit on a gym ball and try to move your spine. Avoid focusing too much on your pain, if that’s possible. Go outside, don’t stop your activities or avoid stopping. For example, work, or if you have an appointment to see a friend, go and see your friend. Try to take life as normally as you can. Having too much pain doesn’t mean that you really have damaged your back. So, pain and damage are not necessarily the same thing in the back. It’s okay to move your back and again, a lot of the drugs and x-rays, imaging, a lot of that is usually unnecessary.
Dr Norman Swan: If you are living with chronic pain, make sure to talk to your doctor about a pain management plan that can be tailored specifically for you and your circumstances.
Assoc Prof Manuela Ferreira: So, if you educate people around those messages, again, it empowers them to take care of themselves.
Dr Norman Swan: Let’s all understand the facts and support National Pain Week in July. For further information, go to these websites: