The Problem of Chronic Pain
- Written by Louise Stevens
The Problem of Chronic Pain
David Cohen in the Evening Standard (Friday 16thMarch, 2018) wrote:
“Not many of us would accept buying a car or a TV and finding out that nine out of 10 times it doesn’t work. Yet this is what we put up with when acquiring drugs for our chronic pain”.
The newspaper’s investigation reports that opioid painkillers fail nine in every ten long-term pain sufferers but continue to be prescribed in record numbers. According to the report, 50-80% of patients will experience at least one side effect.
Two years ago, the UK’s leading pain experts published a series of guidelines proposing that there should be two golden rules in the treatment of chronic pain: Firstly, those patients who do not achieve a reasonable degree of pain relief within two to four weeks are unlikely to benefit in the long term and their opioids should be discontinued. Secondly, short-term results do not guarantee longer-term pain relief, and therefore continual patient assessment is important.
But what to do if opioids fail?
Dr Cathy Stannard, co-editor of Opioids Aware, an excellent website dedicated to providing up-to-date information for doctors and patients. acknowledged in The Evening Standard that chronic pain is difficult to treat. But she stated, “Alternative Therapies such as acupuncture and exercise therapies may have more benefits than hardcore medical treatments….I’d spend the money saved from taking people off drugs on testing these sorts of treatments”.
Experts like Dr Stannard understand that pain is complicated to treat and is affected by how we are feeling at the time so that our thoughts, feelings and worries and well as previous experiences of pain can all change the way we experience and respond to it. These ideas have been central to an acupuncturist’s understanding of how to treat chronic pain.
Dr Amanda Williams, an expert on persistent pain who is currently writing European guidelines on best practice, built on these suggestions and proposed a five-step programme which is extremely helpful:
- Accept the probability that there is no silver bullet that will work for your chronic pain.
- Understand that chronic pain is not indicative of any life-threatening condition and that it is due to pain that seems to have got stuck in the acute stage and which, for reasons we don’t understand, carries on.
- Become more active by doing the things you enjoy, be it walking the dog, swimming or yoga
- Challenge your mental barriers by avoiding the tendency to catastrophise and instead give yourself realistic messages about what you can pro-actively do to manage your pain.
- Pace yourself, be kinder to yourself, by all means try different alternative remedies such as acupuncture and meditation and seek for things to gradually improve overtime.
(from The Evening Standard Investigation into Opioid painkillers: 16/3/18)
How can we help?
There is a long history in China of acupuncture treating chronic pain. A large number of encouraging studies have provided good evidence that acupuncture is effective in the treatment of a wide range of ailments including low back pain, osteoarthritis of the knee, neck and shoulder pain, sciatica and headaches.
Acupuncturists are widely experienced in treating painful conditions that include the conditions above. At your initial consultation you will be asked for a detailed history of when and how your pain started, how you experience pain, what makes it worse and better, and how it affects your life. After making an assessment, treatment usually includes massage, acupuncture and sometimes heat treatment. Appropriate exercises may also be given for you to do each day.
Chronic pain usually arises over a long period of time and therefore it can take 4 - 6 sessions of acupuncture to start seeing a positive change. We also recognize that chronic pain can make you tired and miserable, affect your sleep and cause other feelings of ill health. The acupuncture you receive is also targeted to improve your general health and well being.
If you would like to discuss your situation and want more information please phone or email the clinic.
We always advise that you consult your doctor prior to starting acupuncture, and if you are taking opioid drugs you must see your doctor before coming off them - stopping suddenly could cause dangerous withdrawal effects.