National Pain Week 23-29 July 2018

What is pain?

Often, people believe that pain is the direct result of an injury, trauma or illness. However, pain is a complex sensation that is controlled by the brain, and is influenced by many factors. It works as a protective mechanism, where the level of pain is consistent with the level of perceived threat or danger to the body.  Often pain can persist beyond what we would expect following an injury. It is also entirely possible to experience pain even without an injury or tissue damage. This is often because of changes in the nervous system, which becomes “wound up” and hypersensitive to sensations like movement, touch, and even temperature. While this can make even slight movements quite painful, it does not necessarily mean that movement is doing damage to the area. In fact, the less we move, often the more wound up our nervous system gets, which can further increase our pain. 

One in five Australians lives with chronic pain (including children and adolescents), and this rises to one in three over the age of 65. Chronic pain can affect anyone of any age or gender. It can be a challenging condition as it is often invisible, poorly understood, and can make participating in work, social events and enjoyable activities difficult. Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety are also more common in people with chronic pain. The total yearly economic cost of chronic pain in Australia is estimated to be in excess of $34 billion, which includes lost productivity and direct health care costs. Chronic pain is Australia’s third most costly health condition, after cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal disorders (which are also associated with chronic pain). It is estimated that with early, appropriate, evidence-based treatment, these costs could potentially be halved. 

What other factors (besides injury) can influence my pain?

While illness and injury can be a contributing factor to pain, other influences include:

  • Stress or other negative emotions - e.g. depression, anxiety
  • Fear of movement or unhelpful beliefs about pain (e.g. “this pain is never going to go away”, “I’ll never be able to do (activity) again”, “I’m only going to get worse”)
  • What was happening in your life around the time the pain started
  • Previous pain experiences
  • Fatigue
  • Being physically inactive
  • Poor diet

What can I do to help manage my pain?

Because pain is influenced by so many different factors, a combination of strategies is generally the most effective way to manage pain. However, every person is different and what works for one may not work for another. Some examples of strategies that may help include:

Pacing - breaking up activities into smaller, more manageable chunks and spacing out your tasks across the day or week can often help minimise fatigue and pain flare-ups.

Stress management - try some relaxation techniques (e.g. meditation or deep breathing), or catching up with a friend to help unwind. 

Exercise - any type will do, however some gentler options include yoga, walking, or cycling. It is important to keep moving, even if it is only for small amounts of time or low-intensity. Exercise helps release endorphins which has been found to have natural analgesic (pain-killing) effects, and improves our strength, endurance, and functional ability.

Sleep habits - try to promote better sleep by avoiding use of electronic devices immediately before bedtime, by finding comfy positions that minimise pain, and aiming to get at least 8 hours per night.

Cut back on caffeine, alcohol and smoking - all three have been shown to negatively influence pain. 

Diet - a well balanced diet helps reduce fatigue, improve energy levels, and promote general well being. 

Seek additional help - pain can be tricky to manage alone, so seeing your GP and other allied health professionals (for example physiotherapy, psychology, or occupational therapy) can help give you the additional support and tools you need to better manage your pain. 

This information was summarised from the following websites:

You can find additional resources/support at the links above. 

A useful video for understanding chronic pain:

For mental health support and access to counselling services, call Lifeline on

Cristy Houghton