What is Multidisciplinary Pain Management? Dr. Jennifer Stevens

Multidisciplinary pain Management

For acute pain, we’ve got a simple problem that goes away quite quickly. Most bodies don’t need much in order to get better. 

If you’ve got chronic pain that’s gone on for longer than three months or is very complex and started to affect other parts of your life, you’ll often be referred to a multidisciplinary pain clinic. Now, what does that mean? That means that we look at all the different aspects of your life and how the pain has affected it. So, it’s partly about the physical, it’s about drug safety, making sure that the medications that you’re on are not ones that you’re going to become dependent on, they’re not going to cause other problems within your life. It’s partly about making sure that nothing’s been missed in your diagnosis. 

It’s also about increasing your physical activity. So physical activity, by itself can improve your pain. But more importantly, it allows you to get outside, it allows you to do your normal activities around the home, if you’ve lost a lot of fitness, if you’ve lost a lot of muscle mass, you’re not going to be able to do those things. And so it’s really important to keep you moving, to keep you strong, even while you’ve got this chronic pain. 

Chronic pain can affect so many people in terms of their psychological health. So we have psychologists and psychiatrists within our chronic pain clinics. And these people look at how pain has affected your psychological health, and they also look at the ways that anxiety and depression can feed into making your chronic pain worse. They’ll help you address it. And it’s really widely recognised that if you have well treated anxiety, well treated depression, that your path through chronic pain and your ability to deal with it will be improved. So they are a crucial part of any multidisciplinary pain clinic. 

If you can’t access a full multidisciplinary pain clinic, your GP, particularly in regional areas where many of these clinics are not available, your GP can still help you find access to a lot of that treatment. So in terms of movement, they might send you to somebody who can do manipulation, or to a physiotherapist, or to exercise classes. You might be able to access Tai Chi or yoga, which have been shown to help a lot, both with physical activity and with mental calming. So they might be able to do that for you. They might be able to help you with your nutrition because we know that if you’re overweight, if you’re eating the wrong foods, that that can feed into your chronic pain as well. And that’s something that can be done in most regional areas. 

You can also get help with medication and your GP might be able to access Telehealth to get support through a remote chronic pain clinic. So there’s a lot of ways that even if you’re outside of the geographic areas that are well served by chronic pain clinics, that you can get help for your chronic pain through your GP. 

And for GPs at the moment, there’s a programme called Better Pain Management that’s available through the Faculty of Pain Medicine website, and that takes you through the steps so that you can help to support patients, if your patients don’t have access to these multidisciplinary pain clinics.

Dr Jennifer Stevens is a Pain Specialist at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney and Pain Australia

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