The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) has announced that 2020 will be the Global Year for the Prevention of Pain. While everyone has a basic grasp of the concept of pain, to understand what pain prevention really means some understanding of the context is important.
Recent figures estimate that in the U.S. more than 20% of people live with some form of chronic pain, with a 2016 report estimating it affects between one-third and one-half of the UK population, equating to just under 28 million adults. Through conditions such as osteoarthritis and back pain, chronic pain has also been highlighted as one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.
Sitting under the umbrella term of ‘chronic pain’, there are also distinctive types and sources of pain. Chronic primary pain is that which lasts longer than three months and associated with significant emotional distress and cannot easily be attributed to any other cause. In contrast, chronic secondary pain occurs as a result of an underlying condition or cause, with six main sub-categories falling under the term. Examples of chronic secondary pain are chronic pain related to cancer, surgery, injury, internal disease, headaches or nerve damage. When it comes to helping individuals experiencing pain, while there is inevitably some crossover between what works, the varying forms and causes of pain require different approaches, treatments and techniques.
It is much more difficult to reverse the negative impacts of pain once they occur, but can we really prevent pain? For the past three decades, preventing primary pain – or acute pain – has been the ‘Holy Grail’ of anaesthesia. However, few studies explicitly address the efficacy and efficiency of primary prevention interventions and, arguably, little meaningful progress has been made on this subject since the 1990s. Despite the focus shifting towards secondary prevention (stopping acute pain becoming chronic) and tertiary prevention (reducing the impact of chronic pain), there is still a need for high-quality research in this area.
Fortunately, however, there has been a lot more secondary and tertiary prevention work in trying to ensure that individuals’ lives aren’t blighted by the negative impacts of pain once they occur, such as mental health issues, decreased physical fitness, financial burden and loss of employment. Given the range of causes and types of pain, it should come as no surprise that treatments and techniques for the prevention and management of pain also vary significantly; from painkilling drugs or opioids to the adoption of self-management approaches, such as eating a healthy diet and mindfulness techniques. Knowing about and having access to these different options is a crucial element to mitigating the impact of chronic pain, but for medical staff or individuals living with some form of chronic pain, keeping abreast of all the options and developments available can prove difficult to say the least.
It’s here that the Global Year for the Prevention of Pain campaign has arguably the potential to make the biggest difference. Through dissemination of pain prevention strategies, factsheets, podcasts and webinars to researchers, clinicians and patients, the campaign aims to elevate the conversation of pain prevention and ultimately contribute towards better patient outcomes. Encouraging clinicians, healthcare providers and other organisations to actively share information on different approaches, opening up discussions and exposing people to innovations in the field will help inform further advice and guidance provided to those experiencing chronic pain. By creating a focal point for members of the public who might live with chronic pain, there is also great potential within the campaign to promote early adoption of self-management, which can have notable benefits for improving outcomes.
Furthermore, the added benefit of this sharing of learning is the raising of the profile of pain prevention and management. Despite the vast numbers of people affected by it (and this number likely to increase due to an ageing population), compared to other health-related issues, diseases or conditions, chronic pain is a topic rarely discussed in mainstream media in any great depth. Because despite its apparent simplicity, pain is a complex topic. However, as one that will touch the lives of millions of people, both here in the UK and around the world, it undeniably needs greater awareness and understanding. This campaign can help affect positive change and enable those at risk of experiencing chronic pain to employ preventative measures to lead the fullest life possible.
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