''Persistent pain rewrites the rule-book for everything we have ever understood about being in pain''

''If you live with pain, you are part of a huge club that you did not want to join.'' This month’s column by Resurgam Healthy Living Centre explores chronic pain - and gives advice on different ways you can try to manage it.

Friday, 3rd September 2021, 4:07 pm
Gillian Lewis Healthy Living Centre Manager, Jodie Portis,l Healthy Living Centre Adviser, Nichola Smyth SPRING Social Prescribing Co-Ordinator Tracey Latimer Resurgam healthy Living Centre volunteer, Robin Swan Health Minister

Have you had pain over a three-month period or more? Maybe you had an accident, or an injury and it just is not healing as it should be? Or maybe you cannot remember an exact cause of your pain and all you know is that every day you are living with pain?

You may have a diagnosis of arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, sciatica, lupus or back or joint pain with disc bulge and many others. Any of these conditions can mean living with pain every day – and night! If this is what life is like for you, then you may have persistent pain.

Persistent pain rewrites the rule-book for everything we have ever understood about being in pain and how it might respond to treatment.

Pain generally is a way for the body to tell us that something is wrong and to protect us from doing something to cause further harm – so we pull our arm away from the fire that is burning us, or we do not walk on our broken leg until it is healed – which makes sense.

However, with persistent pain the alarm system of pain has become too sensitive, like the faulty car alarm that goes off when a leaf lands on the bonnet.

This sensitive alarm of persistent pain does not alert us to make sure we prevent more harm - rather this false or very sensitive alarm can make our health worse and gradually reduces our ability to function.

The rule we follow is that pain means harm does not necessarily apply with persistent pain. This can be confusing as increasing pain can feel like the condition is worsening when it might reflect an increase in sensitivity to the pain. This also does not mean that the pain is not real because it is.

Sometimes people living with persistent pain can feel that because the scans or X-Rays show no obvious cause of the pain that they are not believed, or the pain is imagined. That is not the case.

Anyone with persistent pain is often living with quite considerable pain. Some of the conditions in themselves are painful - for example arthritis. Pain is not always a visible illness which means it can be hard for people living with pain, their family, and friends to recognise the full extent of their condition on their health and wellbeing and the limits it places on their ability to take part in daily activities.

For the 400,000 people living with persistent pain in Northern Ireland this is having a very real and a very significant impact on their daily lives. One in five people living with pain have lost their job because of their condition with loss of job also having an impact on household income and a loss or change of identity for the individual.

One in five people living with persistent pain are diagnosed with depression and 40 per cent report feelings of helplessness or inability to think or function normally – sometimes known as ‘brain fog’. Pain is one of the most common reasons people see their GP with 70 per cent of patients reporting that they have pain seven days per week.

But there is some good news. It is possible to live well or to live better with persistent pain. Good pain management takes account of how well supported and informed the person living with the condition is.

It also recognises that good pain management involves several elements - and medicine alone will not resolve persistent pain. Self-management programmes are available in Lisburn.

The Resurgam Healthy Living Centre can direct you to support that is best suited to you. We know that living with pain affects your sleep, diet and mood.

We also know that learning new approaches can help you live with pain, and these include looking at your medicines, use of exercise and physiotherapy and how to get the best from your healthcare team.

The level of support you need or are willing to try depends on you. We can provide information that you can use at home such as the Pain Toolkit or Live Well with Pain resources.

In Lisburn we also have peer support groups taking part in social activities and providing information on your condition such as Lisburn Versus Arthritis group and Fibromyalgia support Lisburn (email [email protected]).

Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council offer exercise referral programmes (referral via your GP through the Healthwise programme) or free online courses for example ‘Let’s Move with Leon’ by Versus Arthritis provides weekly exercise videos emailed to you that you can do seated or standing specifically tailored for people living with pain conditions.

If you would rather attend a group, The Resurgam Healthy Living Centre runs the award-winning free Better Days Pain support programme (www.hlcalliance.org – pain support). Better Days is run across Northern Ireland, and you can join any programme as they are delivered on Zoom currently. The Lisburn Course starts on September 6 at 6pm and runs for 10 weeks.

You can register up to week three (call 07710394983). Versus Arthritis also provide excellent free six-week self-management programmes which last for 2.5 hours per session.

To find out more contact 028 9078 2940 or email [email protected]).

If you live with pain, you are part of a huge club that you did not want to join.

We know that being with people who understand what it is like to live with pain can be incredibly supportive and we have many options in Lisburn to make that happen for you.

It is possible to live well with pain, get in touch to see what options would best suit you.