A Painful Epidemic in Our Healthcare System

A person walks in a road stairway

1 in 5 Australians live with persistent chronic pain and it is slowly becoming an epidemic that is overwhelming our health care system.

If you have been alive, you have likely felt physical pain of some sort. Usually when there is damage to our body’s tissues, it responds with pain. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong and to pay attention. Normally, once the injury heals and the tissues repair, the pain goes away.

However, chronic pain is different. The pain can persist weeks, months, or even years after the injury and tissue healing has occurred. The reasons for this may be because the nerves that carry pain signals to the brain or the brain itself are behaving in an unusual way. The nerves might be more sensitive than usual, or the brain might be misreading other signals as pain.

Not all cases of chronic pain result from a past injury. It can be highly multifactorial in regard to its causes. Some chronic pain cases are a result of chronic health issues or chronic disease like obesity, fibromyalgia, arthritis and other musculoskeletal issues. Furthermore, sometimes the chronic disease a person is suffering from has nothing to do with the musculoskeletal system, however they still feel chronic pain due to the inflammation resulting from the disease/health issue they are suffering from.

Doctors often define chronic pain as any pain that lasts for 3 to 6 months or more. It can be anywhere from mild to severe and it can come or go. It can also have many exacerbating factors in a person’s environment that makes the pain worse. It also has a serious effect on people’s quality of life and can be extremely debilitating, making simple, everyday tasks laborious and painful. It is for these reasons why it is not uncommon to see a lot of chronic pain sufferers presenting with mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Like most chronic health issues, chronic pain is a complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors, therefore a multi-faceted, holistic approach is necessary in the effective management of pain. Symptom suppression via pain medication and surgery is not a cure or a long-term solution. It is merely band aid that masks the real underlying drivers.

Effective Management of Chronic Pain Away from Medication

The standard approach at the moment for chronic pain sufferers is anti-inflammatory drugs or opioid based drugs. Short term use of these drugs may help somewhat, but after a while they often become ineffective in treating pain. They are also far from ideal because they carry a vast array of harmful side effects and can also lead to debilitating addiction and dependence.

Not to mention they are only addressing symptoms of a deeper underlying cause. If these underlying causes are not addressed, they will keep manifesting leading to worsening pain and increased medication dosage. A vicious cycle that is seen all too often in chronic pain sufferers.

Therefore, in order to treat chronic pain successfully, we need to look at what the underlying causes are. Although the research about chronic pain is quite overwhelming and complex, with lots of theories behind why it occurs in the body, one thing is for sure, pain, just like any chronic health issue, is driven by inflammation.

What is interesting is that research is now clearly starting to show that our diet and lifestyle can have a profound effect on our inflammatory status in the body. Habits around diet, sleep, stress, exercise, the amount of daily movement we get per day, smoking and alcohol can have a huge effect on inflammation in the body, which is why inconsistencies around these diet and lifestyle habits are associated with chronic pain.

This is also why it is no surprise that chronic pain sufferers who make changes to their diet and lifestyle tend to have better outcomes in symptom improvement than those who rely on more passive approaches like surgery and medications. This makes diet and lifestyle absolutely vital to managing and resolving chronic pain.

Why is diet and lifestyle adjustments for chronic pain not the standard of treatment?

Diet and lifestyle changes are often the hardest things to change because they require persistence, hard work, changing of values, prioritization and consistency. Knowing what to change and how to change it can also be overwhelming, especially due to all the misinformation in the media around diet and lifestyle.

Because of this, people often opt for a more passive approach to managing their pain that doesn’t require as much effort. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. With the guidance of a qualified health practitioner who is well versed in the research around diet and lifestyle modification for managing chronic pain, it is possible to implement changes that are achievable, sustainable and effective.

A good practitioner will help coach you through the process of lifestyle modification and provide suggestions for change in a gradual manner so as not to overwhelm you, hence ensuring long term sustainability of the changes made. They will empower you with the right information and habit changes so that you can learn how to be healthy and manage your own symptoms.

Lastly, a qualified health professional could also assist in the prescription of evidence based herbal and nutritional supplementation, which can help decrease pain symptoms and are very effective in the backdrop of good diet and lifestyle habits.

So, if you are suffering from chronic pain, don’t let it get worse and take an active approach to healing. Call Oak health today or book an appointment online to find out how to make sustainable and achievable changes to your diet and lifestyle, as well as use evidence based supplementation that will decrease symptoms of chronic pain. You may also want to check out Oak Health’s specialised 6 week program for treating chronic pain.