Lack of communication adds to chronic pain misery

Helen Rice suffered from chronic pain for more than ten years. Picture: John Devlin
Helen Rice suffered from chronic pain for more than ten years. Picture: John Devlin
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MISCOMMUNICATION is a ­serious barrier to treatment for Scots living with chronic pain, researchers have found.

Edinburgh-based charity Pain Concern undertook a two-year study, titled Barriers To Effective Self-Management Of Chronic Pain In Primary Care, examining how to improve management of the condition, which affects about 800,000 people in Scotland.

Chronic pain is defined as any pain which has lasted for longer than three months. It can be an illness in its own right, caused by a malfunction in the body’s pain system, rather than a side- effect of another condition.

The project analysed findings from 101 patients and ­clinicians across Scotland and identified four major areas for improvement: organisational issues; limited treatment ­options; patient wellbeing; and miscommunication.

Katy Gordon, a researcher for Pain Concern, said: “The ­often lengthy process towards diagnosis and treatment, the emotional impact of pain and the need for ongoing support, as well as health professionals tending to adopt a medicalised approach, can all to lead barriers forming.

“We found that communication about pain was often challenging for both patients and health workers and this sometimes led to difficult relations.

“The complexity of the condition and difficulties that people experience in describing pain, combined with finding the right time for a doctor or nurse to introduce the concept of self-management, all added to the challenge of forming a partnership between patient and health professional.”

Pain Concern hope the findings will be used to help people better self-manage their pain through exercise, sleep, physiotherapy and other options, rather than through more medicalised treatment.

Helen Rice, 38, from Paisley, suffered from chronic pain for more than ten years before she was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Sydrome, a genetic condition which affects connective tissues. She said: “We don’t always have the language to describe pain so it can be hard to express. Sometimes it would be a low, dull ache, like when you have a fever, while other times I would crawl from my bed to the bathroom and that would be all I could do for a few days.”

Rice said she felt “very lucky” when she received a diagnosis but that was not always available for sufferers. She has been able to begin working again as a researcher after starting to self-manage pain through swimming and physiotherapy.

Paul Cameron, national chronic pain co-ordinator for Scotland, said “Scotland made chronic pain a priority in 2008. There are resources in place to help but progress must come from patients and clinicians. Patients need to be in a place where they can hear about self management and healthcare professionals need to be in a place where they can communicate that.”