National Pain Week | Exploring Chronic Pain

Falling between 26 July – 1 August 2021, National Pain Week is a time to recognise - and acknowledge the strength of - those living with chronic pain.

According to the Institute of Health and Welfare, 1.6 million Australians aged 45 and over live with chronic pain - this is equivalent to 1 in 5 Australians suffering each day. More commonly occurring with age, chronic pain is a combination of physical and mental attributes that inhibit individuals from performing daily activities, which can often result in being a very isolating and complex condition. This blog looks to explain chronic pain, explore how it can hinder daily activities, who it can affect and how it can be managed.

What is chronic pain? 

Chronic Pain Australia defines chronic pain as any persistent pain felt by an individual most days of the week, over an extended period of three months or more, or beyond normal recovery time.

What causes chronic pain? 

Chronic pain generally starts with an injury or health condition such as arthritis or joint issues, muscle strains or sprains, nerve or tissue damage, broken bones, cancer, surgery or other painful ailments (HealthDirect). Several modifiable risk factors can also be associated with chronic pain, including lack of physical activity, obesity and smoking.

How can chronic pain impact daily activities? 

Chronic pain can have a vast impact on an individual’s holistic health and wellbeing - day-to-day life and tasks (such as work, exercise, school, socialisation, physical tasks and household chores) can be heavily restrained. In turn, this can influence other aspects of wellbeing (such as mental health). In 2018, the Australian Health Services Research Institute released a report that recognised 40% of individuals living with chronic pain were severely or extremely depressed. In addition to this, chronic pain can lead to long-term health issues, including musculoskeletal conditions, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, asthma and stroke.

Who does chronic pain affect? 

Everyday Health recognises that chronic pain is more common within groups such as the elderly, those with a disability, individuals with previous injury or surgeries, or those with other health conditions that align with its causes. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare acknowledges that nearly 50% of individuals experiencing chronic pain are 75 years and older, due to the increase in falls, deteriorating mobility and an overall decline in health. 

How can chronic pain be managed? 

The first step in pain management is completing a pain assessment to guide the best course of treatment (HealthDirect). Keep a ‘pain diary’ to track when the pain occurs, how it feels, how long it lasts, where it’s located and what triggers it. In addition, a pain assessment (including an evaluation of the individuals psychological functioning and physical ability to perform daily tasks) can be completed. 

Chronic pain can be mild or severe, complex or straightforward. As such, like the majority of health conditions, a one glove fits all approach does not work for pain management and treatment. Pain is a subjective feeling and as such, the individual living with chronic pain needs to be included in the management process. NSW Health identifies that although medications form part of an individual’s therapy, it’s also important to include therapy options such as behavioural and cognitive therapy, physical therapies, complementary therapies such as acupuncture, and alternatively surgical procedures.

As a common condition, it’s important to provide support to those living with chronic pain and assure them that they’re not alone. If you or someone you know is living with chronic pain, we suggest becoming a member of Chronic Pain Australia to get support and join the community of thousands of Australians living with this condition.