I was asked recently by a client, “what is pain management?”
This is, in fact, a very good question. ‘Pain management’ or ‘chronic pain management’ is a phrase that slips easily off the tongue, but what exactly is it and when might it be relevant?
Pain management may be relevant for anybody suffering ‘chronic pain’.
Unlike ‘acute pain’ which is perfectly normal and alerts us that we may have suffered an injury, ‘chronic pain’ is pain that persists for a long time or even permanently. There are host of reasons why somebody may suffer chronic pain. In fact, the medical definition of chronic pain is any pain that persists for longer than 3 months.
Depending upon the initial cause of the pain, in the shorter term, people suffering acute and then chronic pain will undergo a whole variety of treatment, invasive or otherwise. Let’s take an example.
People suffering pain caused by broken bones may undergo surgery and/or periods of immobilisation, as well as taking painkilling and anti-inflammatory medication. Following surgery and/or immobilisation, physical therapy such as physiotherapy may be necessary. Ultimately, however, the majority of people suffering broken bones recover to the extent that they are not in constant pain. They may, of course, experience a recurrence of pain if they ‘overdo it’ or in colder weather, and may be at an increased risk of developing joint degeneration such as arthritis, but the majority of the time, they are not in constant pain.
However, for a smaller proportion of people, despite exhausting all of the usual treatment options, the pain never goes away. This may be for a variety of reasons; some obvious, some less certain and some, frankly, unknown. In such cases, consideration then turns to living with chronic pain and how this may be helped by ‘pain management’, typically through a ‘pain management programme’ at a pain management clinic or department at a hospital.
As the phrase suggests, the aim of pain management is not to ‘cure’ the pain which, after all, persists despite (presumably) exhausting all of the usual treatment options. Rather, the aim is to help the sufferer to adjust and adapt to living with their persistent pain; to manage their life and their lifestyle so as to (hopefully) minimise its effect and to maximise their quality of life.
A pain management programme, whether residential or outpatient, is usually multi-disciplinary in nature. This means that the sufferer will be treated by people from a variety of different specialisms, typically (but not exclusively) pain doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and psychologists. Between them they can provide a programme of treatment to encompass pharmacology (drugs), physical therapy and psychological therapy in an attempt to improve a person’s overall mood and function, and therefore quality of life.
Pain management does not work for everybody. However, attendance on a good multi-disciplinary programme often represents the best possible chance that a person has to help them to come to terms with their chronic pain and ultimately to take the first tentative steps forward in their new life as a chronic pain sufferer.