Unseen: People dealing with chronic pain often have no external physical signs of the condition. Photo: FILE

Persistent pain the hot topic

July 24, 2021 BY

NATIONAL Pain Week starts next week, and the event is focused on raising awareness for the invisible illness of chronic pain.

Specialist pain physician at Bendigo Health Kim Hattingh believes more needs to be done to break down the stigma surrounding pain.

“People with chronic pain often feel that if they don’t have something to show to prove they have got pain, people think they’re imagining it or it’s in their head or it’s not real,” she said.

“Unless they’ve got a missing limb or something visible to the rest of the world, the rest of the world doesn’t believe them.”

Dr Hattingh said treatment for pain involves more than a visit to the doctor or a medication, it involves a multidisciplinary team working with the patient to find strategies to improve quality of life.

The theme of this year’s pain week is connection, not only to family and community, but to the pain itself, and Dr Hattingh said connectiveness is a big part of pain treatments.

“It’s about learning strategies to manage the pain, it’s about, besides connection to the community, it’s connection to your body. It’s acknowledging that you have the pain and to learn a better improved ways to deal with the pain despite living with the pain,” she said.

Bendigo local Tammy Isbister suffers from chronic pain illnesses including trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain, fibromyalgia, central pain sensitisation syndrome and constant migraines.

She has had trouble holding jobs due to her constant pain and associated memory problems.

“People don’t see that I have a chronic illness or if I have any pain, there’s a lot of misinterpretation there or they don’t understand that an invisible illness is there,” she said.

“I’m in pain 24/7, all the time and that’s pretty hard for people to understand.”

Ms Isbister said she is constantly operating on a six or seven on the pain scale, which would see most people bedridden, and doesn’t not qualify for disability support despite being at a physical disadvantage.

“That becomes a huge barrier for people with chronic pain, we’re not disabled enough to be on NDIS but we’re disabled enough to not have the function to work,” she said.

Ms Isbister launched an online support group for Bendigo people living with chronic pain on Facebook, citing the need for people suffering with the illness to support and connect with each other.

She said it gives people a chance to “get some understanding, have a whinge and not be judged and have that backup there”, and said the group inspired one man to leave his house for the first time in seven years.

“That was incredible, it’s a nice thing to offer that to someone, to make someone comfortable enough to come out with people who understand,” she said.

As part of National Pain Week, Bendigo Health held a webinar on pain management for cancer patients, which Dr Hattingh said poses its own challenges.

“It’s not a one size fits all with pain, each pain has got to be taken on its own and judged on its own,” she said.

“Chronic pain, we don’t treat with medication, acute pain, medications often do help and cancer pain is a little bit of both.”

Ms Isbister credited her husband and son as what keeps her going and said she’d love to see a national campaign developed to help educate people and erase some of the misconceptions around pain.

“I hope people start normalising it, like the MeToo campaigns and the Beyond Blue campaigns, I think they need to do a chronic pain campaign,” she said.

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