Researchers identify the best way to ease chronic pain

With large numbers of people across the community looking for effective and lasting ways to treat pain, our researchers at the Kolling Institute are driving nationally significant projects to reduce a reliance on opioid medication and promote proven alternative options.

The research by our team from the Pain Management Research Centre follows the latest figures which indicate around 20 per cent of the population experience chronic pain and a large share of those are still relying on opioid treatment to reduce the impact of their pain.

Centre Director and RNSH specialist Professor Paul Glare said despite the wide use of opioids, we now know they are not an effective, long-term option for most people, and cause a wealth of adverse side effects including addiction issues.

“Opioid use is directly linked to an increase in mortality, and now accounts for more deaths than car accidents,” he said.

“Our research is focusing on the best ways to reduce opioid use considering the complex challenges with medication withdrawal and patient fears that their pain will become unmanageable.

“Our research indicates that cognitive behavioural therapy is the most effective option to reduce pain, and patients are three times more likely to be able to stop their opioid use if they adopt the self-management strategies promoted through the cognitive based therapies.

“With the number of people experiencing chronic pain continuing to escalate, it’s crucial that we’re able to provide the very latest evidenced-based data around the treatments that work and help people manage their pain. It can make a life-changing impact.”

One part of the research program is assessing the effectiveness of digital technologies to support those with chronic pain while reducing their reliance on opioids.

Associate Professor Claire Ashton-James says with demand for support at an all-time high, they are investigating the value of a technological approach which can be delivered to a large number of people at any time of the day.

“Our research has initially focused on how patients would like to engage with the programs, and one key trend has shown us that the community would prefer to receive consistent SMS messages, rather than tap into an App,” she said.

“It’s important that we seek consumer input early to ensure our strategies will be effective and broadly adopted.

“Our research has led to the development of carefully-scripted messages, videos and patient testimonies.

“We anticipate these resources will complement the care provided by clinicians and we are undertaking a clinical trial to test their effectiveness in providing additional support. This trial is being funded by the Ernest Heine Family Foundation and we hope the strategies will directly assist those living with constant pain.”