Published on 27 September 2021
Being told you will be in pain for the rest of your life can feel like a death sentence – but it doesn’t have to, according to specialist pain nurse Tina Elliott.
Tina and fellow specialist nurses Val Gawler and Rachael Hyett, together with consultants and the rest of their multi-disciplinary team, will work with people to find ways to manage their pain and learn to live with it. This could be the latest high-tech option, or a more holistic approach with the help of a psychologist and occupational therapist.
September is Pain Awareness Month but Tina and fellow specialist nurses Val Gawler and Rachael Hyett, together with consultants and the rest of their multi-disciplinary team, will work with people all year round to find ways to manage their pain and learn to live with it.
Tina said: “Sometimes people are referred to us as a pain team and they expect us to have a magic bullet, something that will fix their pain.
“There is no magic pill for chronic pain. But what we can offer instead is a range of interventions to try and lessen it and to help them learn to manage it.
“It’s about focusing on what they can do, adapting and learning to pace themselves and work within their limits.”
Patients suffering from chronic pain – defined as pain lasting more than three months – can be referred by their GP, specialist physiotherapist or other medical professional. The referral will be triaged by a pain specialist to decide whether the patient needs to see the community-based pain team or the hospital-based team.
In the community they may be offered complementary therapies and a range of self-management techniques, while the hospital services focus on more high-tech interventions such as nerve blocks and spinal cord stimulators alongside other approaches.
East Kent Hospitals is the only Trust in the south east to offer spinal cord stimulation – a type of pain ‘pacemaker’ that is implanted under the skin and controlled via remote device.
The team work closely with the community pain team, and the psychologist works across both the community and hospital team to provide additional support to patients.
Tina said: “Over 50 per cent of our patients are suffering from back pain or associated problems, but we literally deal with pain from head to toe.
“If there is a nerve where someone is suffering pain, often the consultants can try to block that nerve, whether that’s knee, shoulder, hand, or a gynaecological or urological issue.
“We also work in partnership with our local hospices to provide pain management for palliative care patients, as well as offering specialist advice and support to in-patients in our hospitals.
“Sadly, sometimes the chronic pain team are seen as the last resort, when if we see patients early on there is a greater chance we will be able to work with them to help them adjust their mindset and achieve the best results.”