According to 2019 CDC data, one in every five Americans has some form of chronic pain. Treatment is often ineffective despite medication, physical therapy, surgery, and therapy. The latest episode in the“Power of Prevention” podcast series explores an evidence-based alternative to manage ongoing pain, known as chronic pain self-management. The series is produced by The Partnership @drugfreenh.org (The Partnership).
In the “Changing the Paradigm on Pain: Chronic Pain Self-Managing” episode, two NH public health leaders explain the self-management model. Paula Smith, Director of Southern New Hampshire Area Health Education Center (AHEC), joins the podcast. AHEC is a licensed holder for and coordinates the chronic pain self-management program in Southern New Hampshire. She is joined by Lisa Stockwell, a master trainer in the program.
Central to the model is understanding the relationship between the brain and pain. Even though the pain may be experienced from any part of the body, it is actually the brain that experiences pain. “When we feel pain, many parts of our brain become active, especially the part that controls our thoughts and emotions,” said Stockwell. “All of these parts are connected in a network.So our thoughts and emotions, positive and negative, actually influence this network, as well as the impulses carried by nerves from all over the body.” Chronic pain is less about actual damage to the body and more about the sensitivity of the nervous system and how the brain interprets this information.
The Partnership recognizes the importance of individuals learning a variety of strategies to manage their pain, rather than simply relying on opioid-based medications that are commonly prescribed. It is important for individuals to know their options. The first step is to have a conversation with their doctor about ways to relieve pain that do not involve prescription opioid-based medications. These treatments may actually work better and have fewer risks and side effects. Opioid-based medications come with serious risks including addiction and death from overdose when taken for longer periods of time or at high doses.
Some alternative strategies are explained in The Chronic Pain Self-Management Program. “We can choose our quality of life in how we manage it. So if we choose to do less, meaning less movement, not eating well, maybe letting our stress take over, we can gradually lose the ability to do the things we want to do in our life,” said Stockwell. “Or we can choose to improve our physical and mental, spiritual, and overall fitness in order to maintain or regain our enjoyment of life. So, it is our choice.”
In New Hampshire, there is an aging population and people are living longer, not only with chronic disease, but with chronic pain. “It’s never too late for prevention. The program helps people make lifestyle changes that support their health even before they need it,” said Paula Smith. “The group support has been shown to be valuable in helping people make lifestyle changes. You are not alone and there are other people out there that can really help you, help yourself.”
The program is six weeks long with one 90-minute session each week. It is offered at locations around the state, typically at no cost to the participant. During the pandemic, the program switched to virtual sessions with success. The program is currently funded by the New Hampshire Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services, in-kind contributions from hospital systems and other healthcare organizations, a partnership with the UNH Cooperative Extension, and other partners.
To learn more about the programs that are available, visit their Facebook page,Better Choices, Better Health – NH.
Debbie Love, Consultant, JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc.
By day, Debbie Love works at JSI Research and Training Institute, Inc., to get the word out about prevention on a variety of public health issues specific to our youth, oral health, immunization, substance misuse, homelessness, and aging, to name just a few. In her free time, she is a published poet and author, focusing her writing on humorous accounts of her everyday life to share with the world, while seeking opportunities to give back to local businesses in her community through the sales of her children’s book. Debbie lives in Chichester, NH, with her husband, children, and very spoiled rescued dogs and cat.