Too Many Australians Use Painkillers for Chronic Pain, Experts Say

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Osteopaths exercise chronic pain

Osteopaths say too many Australians are relying on medication to manage chronic pain, and should exercise more instead.  

Research on behalf of Osteopathy Australia has found that 65 per cent of Australians aged over 45 rely on medication to manage their pain, while 70 per cent of Australian adults are not physically active.

Chronic pain is pain that lasts beyond the expected time for healing after surgery or trauma, and can exist without any clear reason. It affects one in five Australians aged over 45, a demographic more than three times as likely to be given pain medication according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Osteopathy Australia President Michelle Funder says exercise can temporarily relieve chronic pain.

“Exercise is really important in pain management, because it has a really good impact on the circulation system, on the lymphatic system,” Ms Funder said.

“It helps to reduce the input of pain and it mixes the pain message with exercise, so people tend to forget about their pain while they’re moving their body. Which is a really great thing because we want to break that cycle of pain.”

Ms Funder said pain medication is sometimes necessary but should be guided by a doctor.  

“Pain medication is definitely appropriate for some people, when it comes to chronic pain, but it’s just one tool in the belt,” she said.

“It’s really important (to note that) self-managing that pain medication is probably not a great idea.”

“It certainly has its place in managing chronic pain, but it’s really important how the medication is managed well and supervised by a medical practitioner.”

Pain medicine not the answer to chronic pain

Chronic pain management should go beyond medicines, according to a fact sheet by peak body Painaustralia.

“While medicines such as codeine or other opioids are sometimes prescribed for chronic pain, research has shown they are not effective in the longer term, contributing on average to only a 30 per cent reduction in pain,” the fact sheet says.

“They can also come with unwanted side-effects such as nausea, drowsiness, constipation, mood change and difficulty in concentrating.”

Painaustralia CEO Carol Bennett says people can learn to live without pain medication.

“Many people learn to live without medication,” Ms Bennett said.

“And sometimes it can take a while. And obviously, with chronic pain, it can move through different stages where sometimes the pain might be more acute, and you might need some assistance with medication.”

Taking a holistic approach to chronic pain

Ms Bennett said osteopathy was “very important” for treating chronic pain, but physiotherapy and chiropractic care could also be helpful.

“It just depends what your circumstances are as to what you need,” she said.

“It’s a case of getting good information, finding the right mix of treatments and supports that will help you for your condition and matching that to the stage of the condition and the type of pain that you have.

“If you can, ideally, take a proactive approach to managing chronic pain, which is about keeping it active, keeping a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, exercise. All of those things really do help when it comes to managing these sorts of chronic conditions.”

If you need to talk to someone about chronic pain, contact:

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