The Strain of Pain by Dr Izelle Taljaard

Despite advances in modern medicine, chronic pain still affects around 81% of the world population. The recent COVID–19 pandemic has taught us that the virus can cause chronic pain and the number of people suffering from chronic pain is currently at an all-time high. A world-wide study on the burden of disease in 2016 found that pain is the biggest disease in the world and the most disabling type of pain is back and neck pain. The cause and origin of pain is frequently misdiagnosed and mistreated resulting in a decline in quality of life, increased absenteeism, and mental health ailments.

In contrast to acute pain, which is a protective mechanism, chronic pain serves no purpose other than to bombard its recipient with constant unwanted stimuli secondary to a dysfunctional nervous system. The outcome is a person with a brain that becomes tired and confused, that struggles to distinguish between the exact nature and location of the pain, and a patient that is despondent, tired, and depressed.

Patients with back pain frequently have associated chronic headaches, knee, shoulder, hip, and pelvic pain. The key, we know, is specifically looking for and making the correct diagnoses, so that correct treatment can be provided. A classic example lies in the patient presenting with severe, chronic headaches not responding to conventional treatment. Few practitioners suspect they might be treating the wrong pathology, but when we look for an alternative biological cause, we often detect arthritis in the neck. When we treat the correct pathology, the headaches resolve, and the patient has their quality of life back.

Unfortunately, in general practices these patients often prove difficult to treat due to a lack of access to specialist investigations and interdisciplinary teams needed to provide holistic care.  There is a misconception that x-rays alone are sufficient investigation and that conventional hands-on therapy alone will be effective, or worse - that the patient is imagining the pain. All of which are gravely inaccurate. Successful treatment requires multimodal input.

Luckily, there are now teams and professionals who focus solely on diagnosing and treating these debilitating conditions and to focus on following international guidelines in doing so. Up to 95% of all patients need only conservative, non-invasive treatment approaches together with holistic health promotion.

These exciting advances in pain procedures now ensures vitality and quality of life is within everyone’s reach.

Dr Taljaard is a Member of the Pain Collective and specialises in managing pain within an interdisciplinary team. She consults in Paarl and Panorama. For appointments call the central booking office on 021 300 0770.