Opening new doors for people living with chronic pain

Living with chronic pain can reduce a person’s quality of life to the point where the pain seems to have total control and the individual none.  Now, Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) is providing people living with chronic pain a treatment option aimed at turning that notion on its head.

“If you’re living constantly with pain, your perception of what you can reasonably do starts to shrink,” says Mary Anne Good, Program Manager for the Chronic Pain Clinic at KHSC’s Hotel Dieu Hospital site.  “Our self-management program explains and demonstrates how tools such as regular physical exercise can help you to manage your pain effectively.”

The 12-session program is focused on putting people back into the driver’s seat when it comes to managing pain, says physiotherapist Kyle Vader.

“These are people who, despite rehabilitation or medication, are still living with pain and understand that they have to find ways to cope with that,” he says.  “They want to function better and to have a better quality of life that isn’t dependent solely on health care providers, medical testing or medication.  They want to move beyond the hospital and they want their independence back.”

That was the story of Zaida Lalani, who entered the program earlier this year after she couldn’t get relief from significant chronic pain.   Medication just didn’t work, she says, and she was unable to move easily and struggled to walk long distances.

Enter Kyle and his fellow team members—an occupational therapist, registered nurse, physician, social worker and psychologist—who work with people such as Zaida to set personal goals, improve their understanding of chronic pain, explore related stressors and practice relaxation skills.

A crucial part of the program—increasing physical activity—is getting support from a new partnership with the City’s Artillery Park Recreation Centre, where program participants are introduced to fitness equipment and exercises that they often assume are off limits given their pain issues.

“Showing people how they can get back to physical exercise is significant because a person’s level of physical engagement can really throw up barriers to enjoying life,” says Mary Anne.

Partnering with Artillery Park to help participants get comfortable with a gym or pool workout knocks those barriers down and gives people’s confidence a welcome boost, says Kyle. 

“Letting people ‘practice’ physical activity in a real fitness centre helps them feel they’re out in the community again and not isolated by their pain,” he says.  “Exercise helps them to feel that they’re back in control of their lives on many different levels.”

Zaida credits the self-management program with taking her life in a new direction.

“It got me moving again, to the point where I could work part-time this summer,” she says. “I wouldn’t have even have considered working a year ago but now I know how to listen to my body. And that’s making a huge, huge difference in my life.”

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