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Learning how to 'be' again: managing chronic pain

Chronic pain can be crippling. For people with ongoing pain that doesn’t respond to medication, it can feel like pain is the prison you’ve been locked inside for life.

Kim Vu is a former State Government senior policy manager in the Education Department. In the midst of a wonderful and full career, she found herself battling acute neck pain. After a cervical fusion to relieve nerve compression she was still in pain a year later.

It took a long time to recognise the transition of my symptoms to chronic pain,” says Kim, “but I became aware that I needed a multiā€faceted approach and perseverance in solving this problem.”

Not one to do things by halves, Kim set about finding a solution to the pain which was so dominating her life. To deal with the psychological aspect of her condition she took up mindfulness meditation, and spoke to a psychologist to deal with some of the loss and anxiety she was experiencing.

Kim Vu was struggling with neck pain when she found the HammondCare pain program. Photo credit: Fred and Hannah

For the physical component, she saw a physiotherapist who gave her some exercises and helped her overcome the fear of moving in particular ways and doing everyday tasks. “I realised I had been protecting my body as though it was in an acute stage needing rest for healing,” says Kim. “As a highly active and bubbly person, I had shut down in the face of pain.” The physio helped her re-learn to move in ways she’d been avoiding.

Lastly, feeling determined to make sense of how pain works she enrolled in an online course about Medical Neuroscience. But despite all these steps, Kim didn’t feel like she’d really figured out what was going on, or what else to do.

That’s when she came into contact with the Pain Clinic at HammondCare Greenwich.

The group Pain Management Program aims to empower people to understand pain and to develop techniques to tackle it head on, including relaxation and meditation, stretching, spirituality and meaning, neuroplasticity and physical activity.

Kim says through the program she’s experienced a wholistic approach to pain. “I truly found answers in the pain program,” she says.

“What was most beneficial to me was the bringing together of knowledge of the medical and psychological aspects of pain. And this knowledge is underpinned by the belief that our values also play a role in recovery.”

One of the things the program does is look at meaning as a way to assist recovery. Kim says this has been particularly enlightening for her.

“The program embraces hope, courage and gratitude as keys to assist us as we face pain. Exploring these concepts has also helped me reach deeper into my humanity to solve a physical problem that medicine can’t readily treat.”

Kim says she’s also benefited from the program’s focus on neuroplasticity, which employs cutting edge techniques to turn down the volume on pain.

“I’m excited to try these new techniques though they require devoted attention, persistence and relentless effort,” says Kim.

The heart of neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt. But in the case of pain, it’s believed to be mal-adaption. It’s as if the brain amplifies signals coming from injury, thus increasing the intensity of what’s experienced as pain. It’s even thought the areas of the brain which receive pain signals are enlarged over time. In HammondCare’s Pain Management Program, patients are encouraged to participate in visualisation and movement exercises to wind back these signals.

Even though it is still early days, I love the feeling that with this treatment, I have gained the knowhow and a true sense of being empowered – an experience I can’t say patients always have.”

“I feel tremendously rewarded to participate in a program that has translated the latest medical knowledge into practice for our benefit. It is also a program delivered with compassion by highly recognised practitioners in the field. With their expertise and my enthusiasm, I have learnt a new way of being in the world.”

For more information about the Pain Management Program, contact the HammondCare Pain Clinic.

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