When someone suffers from long term pain of any cause, we call it chronic pain. Sufferers will tell you of the daily struggles of dealing with the pain, the need for regular strong pain relief and the frustration of not being able to do any task easily. It affects your mood, your relationships and your ability to work creating a vicious cycle. I see patients despairing. They get momentary relief from medication but then the pain always comes back. They always ask if there have been any new discoveries or breakthroughs in the field of chronic pain that may help them. I cannot say that at present there is anything revolutionary coming out soon, but the digital health industry is working on it. It is important to understand that we are complex organism and if one part of us is not working properly, it will affect other parts of us. Chronic pain can be knee osteoarthritis, cancer related or from previous injuries. To treat it, we have to look at the individual as a whole. Their physical problems, their social problems but most importantly their mental wellbeing.
How can technology help?
The first way to control any issue is to understand it fully. If you understand it you can own it! You can then target your treatment accordingly. A great resource for understanding pain is the painHealth website. Read it. Learn about pain. Understand what you can do about it and be in control of the situation. If you feel you are in control, you do not feel helpless or overwhelmed. You feel your actions have a purpose, to achieve your goal of pain control. The basis of finding a solution to any problem is understanding what the problem really is.
The digital health revolution has brought to our attention different pieces of tech such as painpod and quell. They are claiming good progress in helping people in chronic pain. They often state whilst they won’t stop the pain entirely, they “turn down the volume”. We are seeing an opioid crisis globally and I believe technology will be the source of alternative strategies to challenge the use of strong medications. Whilst we may not be quite there yet, progress is certainly being made.
Looking at the effect pain has on your mental health is vital in treating long term pain problems. Depression and anxiety are common. Knowing that the pain is relentless can wear you down. Everyday you wake up you are in pain. Simple things like going to the shops seem like major obstacles. The one thing I would say is that feeling low or anxious is normal in this situation, so don’t beat yourself up about it. However this is where technology has made significant progress, so there is hope. Seeing a psychologist has now become easy and accessible online. You can see someone where and when you need to in the comfort of your own surroundings. Mental health support can be given by your chosen practitioner regularly to help you through the challenges of suffering from chronic pain.
Online psychologists such as Cyberclinic or Lysn offer a variety of psychologists that can be accessed via your phone. Have a look and see if one of their psychologists connects with you. A lot can be learnt from what high performing athletes do to achieve their goals. They will have physiotherapists, nutritionists and psychologists on their team to support them. Do they have chronic pain issues? Of course! But they also develop the mental strength to battle through them. The stigma of mental health needs to be forgotten and now you need to get a team behind you to reach your goals.
Part of the strategy to support your mental health is exercise and meditation. Now depending on the source of the pain, exercise may be hard to commit to, so maximising meditation is key. Mindfulness is a technique that helps you stay in the present with meditative techniques. If you focus on the past and why you have chronic pain, you can become depressed. If you worry about the future and what effect the pain may have on you, you become anxious, so mediation teaches you to live in the here and now. Find a course online, get an app or get some technology that can help, (see Muse as an example). In addition ancient arts such as Yoga or Tai Chi focus on breathing and relaxation which all benefit mental health as well as a whole host of other health issues.
Chronic pain is a complex beast and there is no one solution that will deal with all the issues that come along with it. It is important to understand what you are dealing with and then attack it from all angles. We at HealthAide aim to give you direction as to how to approach a particular health problem in your life, take control and own it!
Blog post written by Dr Khurram Akhter.
Khurram is an experienced primary care physician and a thought leader
in the field of digital health.
Disclaimer: This text does not serve as medical advice and if you have any questions, seek advice from your doctor.