Chronic or persistent pain is something that, according to a recent study by Brian Purcell Communications (BPC), 14% of adults have suffered from for more than 10 years. Being in pain – especially if it's a hidden illness – can have a massive impact on an individuals quality of life and mental wellbeing (75% claim theirs has been affected).
I've been getting physiotherapy on and off since I was around three years old. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at two and then persistent pelvic pain at 21 means that for over three decades combined, I've been relying on a physiotherapist to improve my quality of life.
I never went to doctors about any muscle pain, and I was never on medication for anything prolonged; I went to physios, not to a GP. Daily, weekly, monthly exercises (my poor mother did the bulk of the toing-and-froing) after school and then before work was my norm. Up until I turned 21, the hourly sessions were a constant. This, in combination with a few heavy surgeries, is the only reason that now, in 2019, I'm not wheelchair-bound.
Physio has had a life-changing effect on my day-to-day. I've had sessions on-and-off for decades.
It's enabled me to walk (mostly) pain-free.
To see things, work, travel, live.
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The sessions tapered until I was diagnosed with chronic/ persistent pelvic pain just after I turned 21 and that's when I altered my usual route. I went to my GP weekly trying to figure out the reasons for this very sudden onslaught of pain (so much so, they didn't have the heart to charge me full price every time). I saw multiple specialists who were all very nice, but just kept giving me pain medication, telling me to give it time and take the tablets.
This went on, the pain got worse and I started to get depressed. It's not going away, I would tell my GP in tears. I got to a point, where I thought that this was it; I'd have to simply live with it. In fact, this went on for a few years so I did learn to but I was always aware of it, like a horrid toothache that never quite subsides. I didn't want to go out, my days ruled by how sore I was or wasn't.
I'm not the only one who goes through all this as according to the study, those experiencing persistent pain (the most common being back and knee pain) are more likely to think that once you experience this, you can never really get rid of it properly (33% vs 21% of those not experiencing persistent pain), which is more than a little depressing!
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Those not having experienced this type of chronic pain are more likely to agree if they have pain they should stay in bed and rest (I had tried this and it hadn't worked) and 57% of those surveyed who were not experiencing persistent symptoms thought taking strong medication or painkillers was the answer.
I thought all of the above until I realised that it was only through physiotherapy that my symptoms would start to lesson. Weekly sessions of physio for my muscle tightness and soreness and fortnightly sessions of pelvic floor therapy and miraculously (and with a LOT of work on my part), I began to feel better. It's a very slow process. There's still some pain, but now on a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 4, where it was a 9 or 10.
"We need to move beyond passive care for people with pain. Medications, injections, rest, scans etc. do little to give people control over their situation in the long term. Short-term pain relief is often met with frustration of the lack of any long term effects," says Dr Derek Griffin, chartered physiotherapists and pain expert at Bon Secours Hospital.
"Many patients with pain are advised to rest, avoid certain activities or made feel their bodies are vulnerable. Such advice is not in line with the best available scientific evidence. Our modern understanding of pain is that pain is not simply a measure of tissue injury.
"Pain during activity, for example, does not always mean that you are doing harm. It is these types of messages that healthcare professionals should be given to patients to reduce fear."
While it's important to note that GP visits and bed rest are more than effective for some, for others, it won't have the desired effect and by finding alternative treatments, through a qualified physiotherapist, for example, you could see a massive difference, though pain can't be magically cured in either case, he advises.
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"There is no “magic bullet” for pain. The role of healthcare professionals is similar to that of a coach. It’s about working together with the patient to bring them on a journey to get back control of their lives. This will involve encouraging and facilitating people to become more physically active and develop healthy sleeping and eating habits.
"Exercise is not only beneficial for developing fitness, we know it can reduce pain and improve our mental health," he continues. "Anxiety and depression are more common in people with pain and should be effectively managed. Additional strategies such as relaxation or mindfulness techniques or cognitive behavioural therapy can also help people cope with stress or unhelpful thoughts and can be part of how they cope with and manage their pain.
"We also need to change society’s understanding of pain. We need more awareness – pain is about more than tissue damage. Our lifestyles, our mental health, our general well-being and our beliefs about pain can – and will – all play a role."
The Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists is the national, professional body representing over 3,000 Chartered Physiotherapists in Ireland. Chartered Physiotherapists are experts in movement throughout the lifespan - from birth right through to old age. To find your local Chartered Physiotherapist visit www.iscp.ie.
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