National Pain Week: Raising awareness of chronic pain

25 July 2022

National Pain Week, running from 25 - 31 July 2022, aims to raise awareness around chronic or persistent pain which is particularly common within the veteran community.

Chronic pain, or persistent pain, relates to pain that persists for more than three months. In Australia, one in five Australians are living with chronic pain, including adolescents and children. 

Veterans, due to the nature of their service, are commonly affected by complex pain conditions at a disproportionately higher rate than the general population.  

For people who have persistent pain, it can be debilitating, and effect their ability to work, sleep, and maintain relationships. It can also increase their risk of developing comorbidities such as depression, sleep disturbance and fatigue. 

Signs and symptoms of chronic pain

Chronic pain has many associated signs and symptoms including:  

  • Joint pain 
  • Muscle aches 
  • Burning pain 
  • Fatigue 
  • Sleep problems 
  • Difficulty maintaining focus 
  • Lack of energy and stamina 
  • Decreased activity 
  • Decreased quality of life
  • Mood problems and mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and irritability.

By recognising the signs of chronic pain, this is good first step in working towards an effective management plan, with the support of a health professional. 

Managing chronic pain 

The way we perceive, treat and manage pain has changed over time.  

Historically, pain was treated with a biomedical approach. This involved physical assessments, or scans and imaging to identify the cause of pain.  

The cause was then removed or repaired but if this wasn’t possible, it was treated using medications, passive treatments or fear-avoidance behaviours (e.g., not bending over in the fear of pain).  

While these treatments may have relieved pain quickly, it masked the underlying cause rather than actively treating the issue.  

Now, chronic pain management involves a variety of components including both psychological and physical rehabilitation elements, some of which involve specific exercise prescription from a qualified exercise physiologist.

Benefits of exercise on chronic pain 

Many people with pain fear exercise as they worry it could cause an exacerbation of their pain or injury. Research suggests, however, that regular stretching and exercising decreases pain and discomfort. It prepares the body for other activities, and it can strengthen weak muscles.  

It is important to start slowly and build up or increase your stretching and exercising slowly over time. 

Exercise not only has specific benefits in reducing the severity of chronic or persistent pain, but also contributes to the general benefits associated with improved overall physical and mental health. 

Exercise can also improve the physical functioning of people with chronic pain who are also suffering from depression, deconditioning, and obesity. 

It’s important to know that some pain is normal when recovering from injury or surgery and does not necessarily indicate that further damage is being caused. Once this is recognised, it becomes easier to retrain our brains and bodies into understanding that adaptive and increased movement is more beneficial for chronic pain than inactivity. 

Mates4Mates can support you and your chronic pain 

Deep breathing and mindfulness exercises and physical therapy are often used to treat pain. Pain should not be something you have to live with and with the help of trusted psychologists and exercise physiologists challenging how you think, feel and behave, you can learn long lasting skills to manage your pain. 

If you’re a veteran or family member who is experiencing chronic pain, reach out to Mates4Mates on 1300 4 MATES (62 837) to find out how our psychologists and exercise physiologists can support you. 

Daenen, L., Varkey, E., Kellmann, M. and Nijs, J., 2015. Exercise, Not to Exercise, or How to Exercise in Patients With Chronic Pain? Applying Science to Practice. The Clinical Journal of Pain, 31(2), pp.108-114. 

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