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Unlocking Pain Relief: How Occupational Therapy Can Transform Your Chronic Pain Journey

In this National Pain Week, we would like to shine a light on a frequently overlooked but incredibly effective pain management strategy – Occupational Therapy (OT). Occupational Therapists (OTs) offer a unique approach to managing chronic pain, one that is especially relevant for complex pain conditions such as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and Fibromyalgia.

Understanding Chronic Pain in Australia

Australia, like many nations, is grappling with chronic pain. As per the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, almost 3.24 million Australians reported living with chronic pain in 2021. Chronic pain can be incredibly debilitating, reducing a person’s quality of life and impacting their ability to engage in daily activities.

The Unique Role of Occupational Therapists

While physiotherapists help improve your physical function, and psychologists work on the mental-emotional aspects of your pain, occupational therapists bridge the gap, helping you navigate your day-to-day life with chronic pain.

OTs use the bio-psycho-social model, a holistic approach that considers the biological, psychological, and social factors impacting a person’s health. This model emphasises that health is not just about physical wellbeing but includes psychological and social aspects as well.

An occupational therapist’s goal is to enable you to manage your pain while maintaining the highest possible level of function and engagement in meaningful activities.

Why You Should Consider Seeing an Occupational Therapist

If you’re living with chronic pain, an OT can provide strategies to help you better manage your pain. They will assist you in learning to pace your activities to prevent flare-ups and better manage your energy, help you to regulate your nervous system, and find ways to return to your valued activities. They can also work with you to modify your home or work environment to reduce stress on your body.

Occupational therapists understand that pain is a Complex Adaptive System. This means they recognise that chronic pain is not just about tissue damage but is affected by various factors such as sleep, nutrition, stress, and social environment. By addressing these factors, OTs provide a comprehensive approach to manage your pain.

Occupational Therapy for Complex Pain Conditions

OTs can also provide tailored strategies for specific conditions. For instance, with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, they can work with you to gradually reintroduce movement in a supportive and controlled way, helping reduce fear associated with movement. In cases of fibromyalgia, OTs can assist you in establishing a routine to manage fatigue and stress levels, two factors known to exacerbate fibromyalgia symptoms.

Multidisciplinary Pain Management

Occupational therapy doesn’t replace other forms of therapy; instead, it complements them. Working in a multidisciplinary manner with physiotherapists and psychologists, OTs help build a comprehensive pain management strategy personalised to your needs.

In summary, Occupational Therapy is a powerful tool in your pain management toolkit. This National Pain Week, consider reaching out to an Occupational Therapist and start a conversation about how they can help you live a more fulfilling life, despite your chronic pain.

Jacintha Bell, BSc (Occupational Therapy), is a seasoned Occupational Therapist with over two decades of experience specializing in mental health and chronic pain. She serves as the Director and Principal Occupational Therapist at our clinic and is the WA Director for the Australian Pain Society. As a mother with a personal connection to chronic conditions, she brings empathy and understanding to her practice. When she's not shaping healthier futures or educating others in her field, Jacintha can be found indulging her love for gardening, dancing, and sustainability.

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