5 things you should know about pain management

31 May 2017

Everyone knows the experience of pain. And yet, while we all feel pain in a variety of similar ways, it remains an entirely subjective experience. Until recently medical science had few ways to see, measure or resolve the impacts of pain on the body and mind.

The University of Sydney recently hosted a Sydney Ideas Health Forum on the subject of ‘pain’, where a panel of our leading researchers from across the health disiciplines discussed the prevalence of pain and how to manage it.

The conversation moved from chronic pain management to the benefits of allied health and pain clinics to the power of our thoughts over pain.

Our panel included:

· Professor Paul Glare, Chair in Pain Medicine, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney

· Professor Fiona Blyth, Associate Dean, Concord Clinical School, Professor of Public Health and Pain Medicine

· Professor Chris Peck, Dean, Dentistry, University of Sydney, Senior Staff Specialist, Pain Management Research Institute, Royal North Shore Hospital

After the event, we asked our health experts to give us their top insights about pain and pain management.  

1. Acute and chronic pain – they are different entities

According to Professor Paul Glare, knowing the difference between acute and chronic pain is important. He defines chronic pain as “pain that persists beyond the time when an injury would have healed up, so arbitrarily more than three months”.

While acute pain is brief and short-term, acting as a warning for the body to seek help. If pain persists for more than a few months, seek medical attention and treatment.

2. Chronic pain is real  


Pain is often felt and not seen, but that doesn't make it any less real or prevalent.
Professor Paul Glare, University of Sydney

In Australia, chronic pain is so common that the financial burden on the community is estimated to be $34 billion dollars a year, affecting around 20% of the Australian population. Chronic pain occurs across the lifespan and is the symptom of many common health problems, including headaches, abdominal pain, cancer, arthritis and back pain, which is now the biggest cause of disability in the world.

3. Improving facial pain    

Orofacial pain refers to pain felt in oral and facial regions, such as the mouth, jaw and face. It occurs in a quarter of the population and generally originates from the dentition, which is the development and arrangement of our teeth. Orofacial pain is mostly managed in dental clinics. University of Sydney research reveals that impaired jaw function is often associated with orofacial pain. Simple jaw movements and excercises to extend the range of motion are effective in returning and improving jaw function. Dr Chris Peck recommends meeting with a professional in a dental clinic to discuss management strategies to improve your jaw function and decrease your orofacial pain.

4. Medications don’t ease pain

According to recent research at the University of Sydney, prescribed medications are ineffective in treating pain and may cause a variety of side effects. Many commonly prescribed medications such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory drugs are actually ineffective in treating common pains such as back pain. We should stop turning to medications as our primary method to help us manage our pain.

The best treatment for the ongoing and consistent management of chronic pain is a healthy lifestyle and regular physical exercise. 

5. Pain clinics will help you manage pain

Around 40 – 70% of Australian’s have pain that is not well managed. However, 80% of people who visit a pain clinic, such as Pain Management Research Institute (PMRI), for pain relief and management, experience an improvement in their chronic pain.

Pain management methods can vary in intensity and frequency and can include psychology, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. You should visit a pain clinic to devise a pain management plan that best suits your type of pain and your lifestyle.

Throughout 2017, the University of Sydney is hosting a series of health forums. Hear our experts discuss key healthcare issues affecting millions of Australians. Learn more about the upcoming Sydney Ideas Health Forums and how you can attend the free public events. 

Elliott Richardson

Assistant Media Advisor (Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy)

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