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Links Between Stress, Chronic Pain And Medication Examined In New Study

An Australia-wide survey, looking into how pain can be influenced by psychological factors such as stress, is to be conducted by researchers from the University of Queensland.

Dr Rachel Elphinston, a senior research fellow at the Recovery Injury Research Centre, is hoping to better understand how these factors -- including symptoms of anxiety and depression -- affect pain and medication use.

"Previous research has shown us that depression and anxiety symptoms contribute to the full range of the pain experience, including people's pain levels and medication use," she told 10 daily.

"But few studies have investigated the potential of these factors together to influence both pain and medication use in an Australian population."

chronic pain
Chronic pain is a broad term to describe unexpected pain lasting longer than three months, which can be caused by a vast range of conditions. Photo: Getty.

More than 3.2 million Australians live with chronic pain, according to a 2018 report from Painaustralia, with that number expected to rise to 5.23 million by 2050. The issue costs Australia $140 billion each year.

"The impact of pain is so great, not just in dollar terms, but in lost potential, to contribute, to participate," Painaustralia CEO Carol Bennett said in May.

"The rising rate of deaths associated with prescription opioids is just one indicator that we aren't dealing with chronic pain well in this country."

pain australia impacts chronic pain
Source: Painaustralia.

Townsville woman Jacqueline Cole, 60, has chronic disabling pain which she said prevents her from working. She has been dealing with osteoarthritis, spondylosis (a degenerative spine condition), polyarthralgia (pain affecting five or more joints) and fibromyalgia (generalised pain and muscle stiffness) for the past decade.

She uses pain killers to manage her pain, as well as meditation and mindfulness.

READ MORE: What I Wish I'd Known About Chronic Pain Before I Got Sick

"I can only medicate to a certain level. Most days are manageable, but I can never medicate to be pain free," Cole told 10 daily.

"The main thing for me to be aware of is, if I am carrying tension in the body due to stress, and to consciously relax that tension as much as possible, because otherwise it will escalate any other pain."

chronic pain painkillers
Painkillers are a crucial part of managing chronic pain for many sufferers. Photo: Getty.

Caitie Gutierrez, 28, was living in pain for 12 years before she received a diagnosis of chronic pelvic and back pain due to poly-cystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis.

"I definitely feel that my emotions, feelings and stress levels play a massive part in my pain flare ups," the Sydney woman told 10 daily.

"The more anxious or in distress I am, the more likely I am to experience a (very painful) flare up."

READ MORE: The Neverending Battle To Accept The Chronic-ness Of Chronic Pain

Dr Elphinston wants to speak to Australians across the country who are 18 or older, and have had their chronic pain condition diagnosed by a medical professional.

The goal is to find new and innovative treatment approaches that specifically target psychological factors causing pain flares.

"Traditionally, pain has been treated from a biomedical perspective. Medication and surgery were the frontline treatments 20 to 30 years ago," Elphinston said.

"We need to be looking at other non-pharmacological and psychological treatments that are just as effective."

Anyone interested in taking part in the study can do so here.

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au