Chronic pain relief could be a few clicks away

The internet can achieve wonderful things, but you probably weren’t expecting ‘successfully treating chronic pain’ to be one. Yet the latest research suggests that’s exactly what it can do.

In. fact, it indicates that 90 per cent of those who’ve tried online treatment for chronic pain report a successful outcome.

For sufferers of chronic pain, any relief is welcome. And if you are not a chronic pain sufferer, you probably know someone who is. One in five Australians suffer chronic pain to some degree. Of that number, about a quarter say it has a serious impact on their day-to-day lives.

So how can relief be delivered online?

Complexities of chronic pain

There are many possible causes and types of chronic pain. These include arthritis, back and neck problems, migraine, serious injury, cancer and conditions such as endometriosis and fibromyalgia. Regardless of the cause, chronic pain can result in serious problems not directly linked to the condition.

Depression, anxiety, social isolation, loss of income and even relationship breakdown are among those consequences. That is not to suggest that chronic pain is a psychological condition. It is not.

Nevertheless, the mind does play a role in the sufferer’s experience of pain. Professor Blake Dear, Macquarie University professor of psychology and senior clinical psychologist, has helped to untangle the complex interactions involved.

“The tricky and intriguing thing about it is that pain is an emergent experience, and how it affects us can be unpredictable,” he says. “We receive input from our nervous system that results in pain. But how we experience that pain is also affected by how we are feeling in terms of low mood, depression, sadness, stress or anxiety.”

Prof. Dear says long-term pain, a pain flare-up, or pain becoming worse “creates stress and pressure that enhances or complicates the experience”.

So what can be done about it online?

The basis of the online treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT has proved effective in teaching people how to alter unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaviour. Often used to treat a number of psychological conditions, it is also proving effective in treatming chronic pain.

Traditionally delivered via face-to-face therapy, it has become an online resource. Prof. Dear has developed the Pain Course and Macquarie University’s free online mental health service, MindSpot Clinic, delivers the course.

It comprises five lessons over eight weeks, with an option for weekly support from a therapist. It teaches practical self-management skills to help patients:

  • understand chronic pain and how it differs from acute pain
  • recognise the cycle of symptoms involved in pain, anxiety and depression
  • break the cycle of symptoms
  • recognise and challenge unhelpful thoughts and beliefs
  • recognise and manage physical symptoms of pain, anxiety and depression
  • manage levels of day-to-day physical activity safely and confidently, despite pain
  • continue to manage pain and emotional wellbeing once the course has finished.

Prof. Dear and his colleagues have assessed and refined the program over the past decade, with increasingly successful results. A five-year trial of the online pain course reported improvements in all areas measured. This included a 26 per cent improvement in symptoms of depression and a 13 per cent improvement in pain intensity.

Accessibility

A host of new patients are being assisted via the online course, Prof. Dear said. “Internet-delivered courses [are] very accessible, and have the potential to increase access to care programs like the Pain Course.”

To find out more about the Pain Course and how it might help you or a loved one, visit the MindSpot website.

Are you a sufferer of chronic pain? Would you be willing to try online treatment? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Chronic pain causes brain changes that increase depression and anxiety

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