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Searching for answers in the complex world of chronic pain

Tara Corcoran

25 July 2018: One in five Australians live with chronic pain – and a researcher from the University of Canberra is investigating the complexity of the issue to determine how it may affect people differently.

Chronic pain is a multifaceted problem that has been identified as pain lasting longer than three months and beyond the expected healing time for an injury.

The University’s Associate Dean of Health, Professor Lucy Chipchase, is at the forefront of chronic pain research.

Professor Chipchase is working to understand how people’s brains respond differently to chronic pain and how mindset impacts on someone’s perception of pain.

“There are two types of mindsets which could affect the way people perceive pain,” Professor Chipchase said.

“Someone with a fixed mindset will believe that aspects such as character, intelligence and creative ability are static and can’t change in a significant way. Someone with a growth mindset believes that it is malleable.

“We found is that chronic pain sufferers perceived their level of disability differently, depending on the type of mindset that they had.”

If someone has a fixed mindset, then this appears to impact on their coping strategies and they could talk themselves out of participating in certain activities or moving in a certain way, Professor Chipchase said.

Treatment plans for chronic pain typically consist of a multidisciplinary approach involving general practitioners, physiotherapists and psychologists. But Professor Chipchase believes early intervention with psychology and physiotherapy support could make a difference to chronic pain sufferers.

“I certainly think that a holistic multi-disciplinary approach to treatment should be introduced as early as possible,” she said.

“Not only do you need to approach chronic pain from multiple angles, but it should be done in a timely manner so each person is receiving the care that they need. The brain is more flexible than people realise and early intervention is essential.”

Professor Chipchase’s advice comes after the Federal Government announced in May it would fund a national action plan for chronic pain management with national peak body Painaustralia.

“It’s fantastic that the government has committed to developing and implementing a National Pain Strategy. The key for the treatment of such a complex issue is an understanding that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t appropriate and that a holistic approach would have more success,” Professor Chipchase said.

“It is also important that patients play a big part in their treatment plan, as they understand their pain better than anyone else.”