This year’s National Pain Week theme is “Let’s manage pain together”.
The 2017 theme is likely to resonate with many people living with MS who experience various types and levels of pain, and are trying to manage it effectively. Whilst there’s no “one size fits all” solution to pain management, a team approach (including the person experiencing pain, their health team, families and carers) can be helpful.
Did you know?
Around 60% of people with MS experience pain that troubles them or interferes with their daily activities.
In a 2016 survey conducted by MS Research Australia, respondents were asked to prioritise research into treating or managing specific MS symptoms. Pain was ranked equal third highest, along with fatigue, just after walking/mobility and cognitive function. Pain was seen as a significantly higher priority by those with severe disease. This aligns to work conducted by the MS Society UK where pain was ranked along with fatigue, mobility and cognition as one of the top four symptom-related priorities, within their top ten.
Pain can result from the MS condition itself – due to damage or changes to the central nervous system, bones, muscles or soft tissues – or from unrelated causes, such as an injury or other illness.
Given that most MS-related pain is chronic (i.e. lasting more than three months), it’s important (and helpful!), to understand your pain experience and develop a strategy to manage it effectively.
Getting help for pain – where to start?
A general practitioner (GP) can help people with MS to manage daily, sudden or severe pain or establish if the cause is something other than MS. It’s also important to tell your neurologist on your next visit about any new pain, changes or unusual sensations.
You may be referred to a specialist pain clinic or other health professional, such as a physiotherapist and/or psychologist, for further assessment and advice on managing pain.
Families and carers can also be helpful for anyone with MS experiencing pain. Tell others how pain is affecting you, and how they can be supportive.
Some pain management strategies:
Medication. Medications commonly prescribed for MS-related pain fall into five main categories: anti-convulsants, anti- depressants, simple analgesics, strong analgesics, and anti-spasmodics. The recommended medication will depend on the source of the pain. While medication can help reduce pain, it rarely relieves MS-related pain completely.
Physical activity and exercise. Long periods of rest or inactivity due to pain can lead to a gradual loss of strength and fitness, and difficulty performing day-to-day activities. Regular physical activity and exercise can reverse these effects and help with pain. Physiotherapists and exercise physiologists can help you develop an exercise regime suited to your needs and ability.
Slow breathing and relaxation techniques. Symptoms of stress can make pain worse. Slow breathing or other relaxation exercises can help reduce tension and stress. Listening to music may also help, as can other relaxation/breathing practices, such as meditation and yoga.
Goal setting. While pain can be disruptive, setting realistic goals and planning can help many people achieve the things they want to do.
Behavioural strategies. Other strategies such as challenging your thinking, problem solving and managing sleep patterns can also help with pain management.
Create a pain management plan. It’s important to develop and maintain a pain management plan that takes into account who can help with pain; what is being done to manage the pain; when these strategies should be reviewed; and what to do in an emergency.
National Pain Week 2017
Specialised Pain Services
Pain treatment facilities closest to you
Pain advocacy and awareness-raising and to read the National Pain Strategy
 MS Community Consultation on Priorities for MS Research, MS Research Australia, Dec 2016. https://msra.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/ms-research-priorities-su...