Managing chronic pain with mind and body

Chronic pain is so common among veterans it’s almost considered ‘part and parcel’ of life after service. On top of the significant impact on daily functioning and quality of life, chronic pain can take a serious toll on mental health. Countless veterans have experienced the impact of chronic pain on their mind, but many may not have experienced the benefit of using their mind to manage their pain.

The GP Ambassador of the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation (GMRF) Dr Phil Parker is a veteran and general practitioner based in Brisbane who treats numerous veterans and civilians struggling with chronic pain.

Dr Parker says, “The impact of chronic pain goes far beyond the physical aspect. It can impact your mood, limit motivation to look after yourself, increase fatigue and have a detrimental effect on performing work duties and maintaining personal relationships.”

Medication plays a role in pain management, but general and allied health practitioners also aim to support patients by providing long term benefit – such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

Dr Parker says a lot of veterans endure the pain because they think there is nothing they can do about it. However in most instances this is not the case – while it may not eliminate pain altogether, mindset and behaviour can play a significant role in self-directed pain management.

If you or someone you know is affected by chronic pain, Dr Parker’s general advice is;

  • Identify areas of your life that cause you stress – a demanding job or long working hours with minimal rest periods can contribute to worsening chronic pain
  • Reduce your alcohol intake – any numbing effect alcohol may have is negated by a long-term worsening of pain and heightened pain sensitivity
  • Focus on sleep – chronic pain can lead to poor sleep, just as poor sleep can lead to chronic pain. Developing good sleep routine and hygiene practices to improve sleep quality can lead to a reduction in pain sensitivity during the day
  • Exercise – it may be the last thing you feel like doing when you have chronic pain, but exercise has a demonstrated beneficial contribution to reducing chronic pain. It is important for exercise to be developed as part of a daily management plan and preferably under the supervision of a physiotherapist
  • Get your family involved – family can play an important role in encouraging socialisation, adherence to exercise and sleep routines, and discouraging alcohol.

Currently GMRF’s Veteran Mental Health Initiative is investigating the physical impact of service in addition to the psychological impact. Dr Rebecca Mellor, coordinating GMRF’s Healthy Veteran Research supports Dr Parker’s advice, adding the importance of diet in being able to manage chronic pain.

Dr Mellor says,A lot of chronic pain is due to persistent inflammation, and there is strong evidence that a healthy diet can contribute to reducing systemic inflammation. It’s important to eat foods such as fruits and vegetables, nuts, wholegrains, fish such as salmon, and olive oil and cut down on sugary and refined foods.  Don’t forget to drink plenty of water.”

If you suffer from chronic pain it’s important to remember that while there may not be ‘a cure’ there is help available. Talk to your GP about ways to manage chronic pain.

Support our work by donating today.