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The alleviation of pain that feels more than miraculous

By Kay Stroud - posted Friday, 24 July 2015


The four-hourly doses of morphine were such a welcome relief to the intense pain I was experiencing following major surgery. What could possibly make me give them up?

Amazingly, I found there was something that could persuade me to do so.

And that's why, I want to share my experience with the sufferers who are being invited to break their silence about chronic pain for National Pain Week.

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In Australia, one in five people live with chronic pain, including adolescents and children. This prevalence rises to one in three people over the age of 65. Chronic pain is linked to depression and suicide and is Australia's third most costly health condition.

To manage it, a range of treatments that address the mental state as well as physical condition are employed. These include physio and physical therapy, medical acupuncture, thinking strategies, lifestyle changes, nutrition and traditional prescription opioids.

Despite this, pain is often long-lasting and continues for years with no foreseeable end.

However, there's a groundswell of people that believe it's time to do more than simply manage pain. They are convinced it can be reduced, and even healed.

According to a2011 reportfrom the US Institute of Medicine, "one reason pain is so hard to treat is that it isn't just physical. Pain flouts the long-standing belief regarding the strict separation between mind and body."

This was experienced first-hand byDr Jerome Groopman.

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The Harvard Medical School professor had been training for a marathon when he ruptured a disc in his back. Although receiving the best treatment available, including surgery, he was left in acute suffering. Eventually he employed a doctor who practised integrative strategies. Dr Groopman realised his thinking could actually have an impact on the amount of pain he felt, and he could "re-educate his muscles to relinquish their memory of past pain" and "move past it." Buoyed by hope, his expectation of less and less pain was soon born out in his experience.

The power our expectation can have was also illustrated in astudyinto the relationship between pain and the placebo effect. Researchers from the University of Turin in Italy replaced intravenous injections of morphine with saline to patients having dental work. Astounding results from the unmedicated saline reported a much higher pain tolerance than you would normally find even when given morphine.

Hundreds of patients inplacebo trialstreating irritable bowel syndrome, migraine and back pain experienced similar or better results from placebos than from strong pain killers.

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About the Author

Kay Stroud is the media spokesperson and legislative liaison for Christian Science in Queensland.

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