Occupational Therapy and Chronic Pain
By Zara Dureno, Occupational Therapist
Chronic pain impacts the lives of 7.63 million people in Canada (Government of Canada, 2020). Yet, chronic pain is misunderstood by many people, and the treatment of it can be a confusing and frustrating journey. Understanding why pain persists and learning ways to self-manage pain can be extremely empowering for those who live with it.
When we are in pain for longer than 3 months (6 months by some definitions), it is considered chronic. No matter the cause of the pain, often our nervous system’s will “learn pain” and it becomes a habitual pattern of behaviour and biology in our bodies. Our pain becomes closely linked to our “Fight/flight/freeze” survival responses and can become harder to manage with medication alone.
Occupational therapy, combined with pain education, can be a productive treatment for chronic pain. “Occupation” refers to anything that occupies your time that is meaningful, so occupational therapists (OTs) are concerned with helping you get back to meaningful activities. Maybe your pain has impacted your ability to play with your children, make your favourite recipes, travel, work, or any number of other important facets of life. OTs will set function-based goals and break down the steps needed to reach those goals. Pain education and education on self-management strategies can help you really understand your pain on a different level, and give you the tools needed to manage it so you can get back to doing what you love.
As an OT who works closely with chronic pain, I am intimately familiar with it since I have lived with chronic pain myself. A serious horseback riding accident and several whiplash accidents had left me keen to search for answers. Once I discovered the brilliance of pain science, my entire life changed and pain no longer ruled my life. I was free! That transformation ignited a deep passion for me to help others on their personal pain journeys. Years of compiling research, treating clients and learning everything I could about pain has led me to develop a series of educational materials and various strategies to help people do the things that are meaningful to them, all while managing their pain better.
The combination of pain science and empowering one-on-one sessions with a very passionate (and compassionate) OT is an excellent way to learn to manage pain.
Government of Canada (2020). Canadian Pain Task Force 2020. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/corporate/about-health-canada/public-engagement/external-advisory-bodies/canadian-pain-task-force/report-2020.html