Movement is key to recovery, says chronic pain educator

Last updated: 05-28-2020

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Movement is key to recovery, says chronic pain educator

The experience of chronic pain can be lonely and miserable at the best of times, but members of a chronic pain support group have managed to say connected throughout lockdown. 

Marlborough Pain neuroscience educator Ameli Anton works with chronic pain patients one-on-one after they are referred by a GP, many of which go on to begin and eight-week pain management programme. Pre-lockdown, she also ran a weekly support group at Biddy Kate's Irish pub.  

For a group of people who already felt isolated from society, the increased isolation of lockdown has been a challenge for some. Anton was keeping in touch with her patients through Facebook and was encouraged they were also reaching out to each other. 

"On one hand it's a bit of a relief to see how the relationships and friendships have been built," she said. 

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"There is no intervention from me which is good, because it's all about self efficacy. But on the other side, I miss them."

Maintaining good mental health was essential to recovery, she said, as anxiety and stress could make pain worse. 

"It has a lot to do with providing the support, not just in terms of medication but also that emotional support and understanding," she said. 

"Just trying to give them the courage or the strength that they can manage by themselves."

With almost one in four Marlburians living with chronic pain - pain that persists for more than three months - a lot of Ameli's work pre-pandemic had been around keeping her patients moving and in work. 

A fear of pain could cause people with chronic pain to isolate themselves and stop moving, which could only make the problem worse. 

"Someone who has been dealing with chronic pain and they stop working .... they reduce their activities, and when you reduce your level of activities you're actually doing more harm to our bodies."

Marlborough woman Jacque Lene attended Anton's pain programme, after a bone transplant three years ago left her taking a "cocktail" of painkillers everyday for two years. 

"I was a walking zombie, falling asleep. You're so drugged up you don't know what's going on around you."

Amidst this struggle was the frustration of not knowing what was wrong: Lene had MRIs, CT scans and X-rays, but doctors were unable to determine the source of the pain. 

Since she was put onto the pain programme Lene has been feeling better, using the pool to slowly increase her movement again. 

"Since I've been with Ameli trying to help and understand this and it all came to sense," she said. 

She said patients and GPs needed to have a better understanding of pain, and to understand how easy it was to become addicted to prescription pain killers. 

Lene was not alone in Marlborough: around 23.9 per cent of the region struggled with chronic pain. This compared to a national average of 20.3 per cent and just 15 per cent in Auckland. 

One of Anton's key messages to her patients was "motion is lotion". 

Prolonged inactivity could cause the nervous system to become ultra sensitive, "like an over protective parent", Anton said. 

"This can happen when people stop moving and stop doing their daily activities and start doing what they used to be doing out of the blue," she said. 

"Our body goes into hyper sensitivity mode, hyper protective mode. 

"The nervous system can become hyper sensitised and then any type of stimuli can trigger the pain response." 

Movement also had social, emotional and financial benefits, keeping people working and reducing their social isolation. 

Under lockdown, her patients had been creative with keeping moving and staying social by connecting with one another. 

They missed their weekly social event, a gathering which used to take place at Biddy Kates Irish Bar each Tuesday at 5pm

"I've been in touch with all my patients on the phone and they do seem to be managing but they do miss the public gatherings and going to the pub," Anton said.       

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