Pain Management in Australia

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The management of chronic pain conditions is a significant public health issue not only in Australia, but around the world.

In a world first, the Australian Government has launched a nation-wide campaign to improve access to, and knowledge of pain management best practices.

Pain Management in Australia

As of May 2021, Australia has released a National Strategic Action Plan for Pain Management (the Action Plan), which will provide real impetus and practical support for the 3.4 million Australians living with chronic pain.

The Action Plan aims to improve public knowledge of best pain management practises including self-management, while also increasing the research on alternative pain management strategies so that medication for pain management is used appropriately and minimised wherever possible.

Read on to learn more about pain management in Australia and the ongoing national strategy to improve the quality of life for Australians living in pain.

Key Facts and Figures

According to Pain Australia:

  • 3.4 million Australians are affected by chronic pain
  • 68 per cent of people living with chronic pain are of working age.
  • The national financial burden of pain is estimated to be $73.2 billion in 2018 and will increase to $215.6 billion by 2050.,
  • 40 per cent of early retirement is due to chronic pain issues.

As shown by the statistics, chronic pain is a significant health issue in Australia.

In order to address the pain burden in a more fundamental way, there is a growing awareness of using a multidisciplinary approach to pain management. This includes adopting a range of treatment modalities while taking a united national approach to the issue.

A Look into Chronic Pain in Australia

Chronic pain is extremely common in Australia, with one in five Australians over 45 years currently living with persistent and ongoing pain, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Out of the different types of chronic pain, Pain Australia records the most to be:

  • Musculoskeletal pain, such as back pain, neck pain and some types of headaches and migraines
  • Cancer pain
  • Arthritis pain
  • Nerve pain

Alongside increasing scientific research on pain is the introduction of alternative pain management strategies. As health professionals move away from opioid prescriptions for pain management, alternative therapies have gained favour as healthy and lifestyle-based pain management strategies.

Australia’s Pain Management Recommendations

According to Health NSW and the Action Plan, management of chronic pain most often requires a multimodal approach, with an emphasis on non-drug techniques. Barefoot Physiotherapy Graceville explains that this usually revolves around physiotherapy (physical therapy), which treats pain through physical strategies. This includes manual therapy (generally a form of massage and related techniques), pain management strategies, posture and body mechanics improvement, education, and strengthening and flexibility exercises. Pain management should not rely solely on pharmacological therapy (such as opioid prescriptions) alone and instead, non-pharmacological pain management interventions need to be better understood.

As part of the Action Plan, the Australian government now recommends more research to be conducted on non pharmacologic options for pain management such as:

  • Patient education
  • Behavior therapy
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Alternative therapy (e.g. acupuncture and chiropractic).

When it comes to alternative therapy, recent studies also suggest that manual therapy such as chiropractic may be helpful in treating musculoskeletal pains.

Studies show that chiropractic care may relieve pain in the neck, upper and lower back, head and shoulders. Chiropractic may also address a range of other musculoskeletal health conditions.

Transitioning Towards Alternative Therapy

Australia’s new Action Plan encourages further research on pain management best practises and focuses on building a support network for Australians suffering from pain. As a result of increasing research on pain management, Australia is moving beyond the traditional and conventional pain management mindset and is welcoming new approaches, experimentation and learning to the problem.

Australia’s transition into non pharmacological therapies for pain management is a promising step towards addressing the national burden of pain. Alternative therapies such as chiropractic for example, are one of the many rising pain management strategies recommended to the Australian population.

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