Pain clinics in South Australia are struggling to cope with demand for their services, a researcher says.
Professor of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of South Australia Lorimer Moseley told 891 ABC Adelaide that dealing with chronic pain was a huge challenge for medical professionals.
“Chronic pain is arguably our post pressing health issue. It costs our society as much as cancers and cardiovascular disease combined,” he said.
“Everyone knows someone whose life is worse because of their pain.
“If you don’t understand chronic pain you can tend to have this attitude of, ‘Well, why don’t they just snap out of it?’ That’s where we were with depression 25 years ago, 30 years ago.”
A caller to 891, David of North Haven, said his daughter had struggled with three years of chronic pain and endured 13 medical procedures for her health issues, but support services were hard to access.
“What we’re finding is we now have to go to Perth because we can’t get into pain clinics in Adelaide in a timely manner,” he said.
“There’s anything from six to 12 to 18 [month] waiting lists on some of the pain clinics in Adelaide.”
Professor Moseley sympathised with the caller: “You’re not alone in that situation. I speak with people most weeks who are tearing their hair out [due to delays].”
Our state is lagging behind all the other states actually in taking on this challenge [but] the conversations that have to happen are now happening in our state.Researcher Lorimer Moseley
He said the state’s pain clinics were doing all they could to try to cope with the heavy demand but, “We don’t have the resources to keep up with demand.”
The researcher said there was hope the long waits would eventually be overcome for people in South Australia who were living with chronic pain.
“Our state is lagging behind all the other states actually in taking on this challenge [but] the conversations that have to happen are now happening in our state between the key lobby group in this area [Pain Australia] and the State Government,” he said.
“[It] has also set up a group of people who are taking this on as a task, as a problem to solve.
“I don’t know how long that process will take, but the stats are such that it will have to happen. We can’t afford for it not to happen.”
Next week is designated National Pain Week to help raise awareness of the issue, which Professor Moseley said was vital.
“[It will be] bringing it not just into the awareness of the public … but also into the awareness, I guess, of our decision-makers and industry, who are losing a lot of money because of this [chronic pain among workers],” he said.
Chronic pain expressed as art
In Adelaide there will be public lectures and even an art exhibition, after several artists spent time with pain researchers and patients to learn about the issues and translate them into artworks which convey the suffering.
Professor Moseley said research into chronic pain was achieving a much greater understanding of why people experienced it.
“Pain is all about protection; it’s not about measuring the state of the [damaged] tissues. It’s about making you behave in a way that protects your body and protects your tissues as they heal,” he said.
He said new findings were being made about people on long-term medications for their pain.
“There doesn’t seem to be long-term drug use that solves the problem, whether that be oral or [slow release] patches. It’s quite possible you develop a tolerance to that [treatment],” he said.
Training the brain to help overcome chronic pain was the latest research frontier, he said.
“The brain no doubt is open to training. All of our biological systems are very ‘plastic’, what I mean by that is they can change in response to demand,” he said.
Awareness of chronic pain issues also will be highlighted in a community cycling challenge in Adelaide in November, the Ride For Pain.