By Mary Brachaniec

Chronic pain affects between 15% and 20% of Canadian adults and reduces quality-of-life and our ability to participate in everyday activities, such as work or school. In fact, pain is the most common reason for Canadians to see a health professional and is a leading cause of long term disability. The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines chronic pain as any painful condition that lasts more than three months. Sometimes, pain continues to be experienced even when the original cause of the pain resolves. The scientific community believes that the nerve pathways that carry pain messages to and from the brain can become sensitized over time, and this contributes to pain persisting for months or years following injury and/or inflammation.

Unlocking the mysteries of chronic pain is important to the arthritis community because most people with arthritis (including me) experience significant pain from time to time. In some cases, like mine, pain is an everyday challenge. I attended the recent Canadian Pain Society (CPS) Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) as a Patient Partner with the CIHR SPOR Chronic Pain Network and the University of Regina, Pain in Older Adults research team. Here are a few of my reflections on attending this year’s ASM.

First, the conference was a PatientsIncluded event, indicating that pre-set criteria (developed by patients) outlined in the Patients Included Charter were met.  Here are a few of these requirements:

  1. Patients with experience related to the conference’s central theme actively participate in planning the event and are active participants in presentations and discussions.
  2. Travel and accommodation expenses for successful patient applicants are paid in full in advance.
  3. All participant disability requirements are accommodated.

Now, let’s shift our focus to the topics presented and/or discussed at the conference.

These sessions provided a glimpse into the future and potential game changers for us and our children in five or 10 years for the prevention, diagnosis and management of chronic pain.  While many advances are in their infancy, with treatments for humans being years away, learning about innovative research programs gives patients hope. The sessions covered a range of topics, including:

  • The impact of the opioid epidemic on pain management, and a discussion of other ways to manage pain.
  • The 2017 Canadian Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain were discussed and there are a number of patient decision aids available under the “weak recommendations”. These decision aids can help patients and health providers work together in decision-making about opioids and pain.
  • Improving pain education for students studying medicine, nursing, physiotherapy, psychology and other health disciplines. This topic is particularly important as pain education in current undergraduate programs in Canada is sorely lacking.
  • Advanced imaging of the brain to evaluate pain and pain relief.
  • Using technology to evaluate pain in people with dementia who are nonverbal.
  • Using digital technology to help kids with pain.
  • Providing the best pain management services with health care resources and access to multi-disciplinary pain management clinics.
  • New horizons in fibromyalgia including the newly developed top 10 research priorities for Canadians with fibromyalgia here:
  • National Guidelines for Opioid and Cannabis in Older Adults (currently in development).

Networking with other patient representatives was the highlight of conference for me. There were people with pain arising from conditions such as arthritis, low back pain, complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), pelvic pain, headache and more. It was wonderful to gather together to talk about our varied roles within our own communities. The health professionals and researchers were were working hard to improve pain therapies and treatments and most were highly committed to working with patients in order to achieve this.

Finally, I would like to thank the CPS and the CIHR Chronic Pain Network for the financial support to attend the ASM, and to CAPA for inviting my thoughts and views on this event.