By Cal Braid
Sunny South News
Alberta Health Services (AHS) is currently offering a series-based program called Explain Pain for individuals who live with the burden of chronic pain. The program is open to new clients, who are welcome to contact the service for support. An introductory foundational class provides new clients with a basic understanding of what they can expect in the supportive group-based setting before they begin the series.
“Chronic pain is defined medically by any pain that’s continuous for three months or longer,” said Kerri Colquhoun, manager of chronic disease management with AHS. “We have very few people that aren’t living with pain for more than three months. They are coming in because it’s been many, many months and they’re looking for something to support them.” The criteria Is low barrier for anyone who falls into this category.
In Explain Pain, the topics include what pain is, how it impacts individuals, nutrition, movement and pacing, sleep, stress, action planning, and emotional expression. Coping with pain is more than dealing with physical suffering; it involves significant psychological retooling and reframing.
“It’s definitely a multidisciplinary approach,” Colquhoun said. “There’s a great skilled core team of people that supports these patients through this journey.” Within a series there are nine different classes. There are also other offerings including the Better Choices, Better Health workshops, therapeutic recreation, and community programming. “We try to open up the dialogue with patients on what else is available when they complete with us, and not just leave them to figure it out on their own.”
Client intake is currently scheduled rather than continuous. The program still runs via Zoom, but AHS is looking towards moving back to face-to-face meetings. Colquhoun said, “Anywhere in the south zone, people could reach out. If somebody is living in Milk River, they could book into classes that could be out of Medicine Hat.” Likewise, someone living in Magrath or Stirling could call the Lethbridge office.
She talked about the impacts of uncertainty and stress during the pandemic, saying, “We know stress can cause a lot of exacerbations in people with chronic pain.”
“We’ve had great feedback with things like pacing and mindfulness, so knowing that days when people feel well it’s still important to pace and be mindful of the activity you’re doing. Nutrition is another one, looking at inflammatory foods. What we are eating can impact chronic pain. The other one that’s been quite well received is the emotional expression.” She described emotional expression as “self-compassion” and said there are activities that can accompany it.
When asked about the interplay between pharmaceuticals and non-medicinal therapies, and if she was confident that treatments other than medication were effective for pain, she said, “Yes, I am confident. What we know is that sometimes it’s in combination. We know that pain medications have a role but they’re not for everybody, for a multitude of reasons. We are an evidence based, research-based program.” She describes her AHS team as skilled clinicians who are excellent at what they do, but added that “they’re not naive,” nor do they assume that what they provide will work for everybody.
“We want to make the opportunity for people to try some different things, and if those are working to support that moment in time, then great.”
So, are the clinicians at AHS simply running a ‘mind over matter’ program, given that they’re providing strictly non-medicinal therapy? “What we want to highlight is that it’s not just mind over matter,” she said. “There are some physiological responses in the body when they eat a certain way and move a certain way. They’re at their best and worse during (different times) the day. On the reverse side of it, people say, ‘it’s not just taking medications and then forgetting about it.’ Our pendulum needs to sit somewhere in the middle knowing it could swing back and forth at any given time.”
“We know that one stop shopping doesn’t work for everybody, so if we can’t provide something that’s going to meet the mark for them, do we have suggestions? Chronic disease is complex,” she said.
She also described the fact that some people get to the point where they feel like they’ve tried everything, and there are challenges in supporting that state of being. “That’s hard, that can be quite difficult. You can provide only so much up to a certain point, and some people get a lot out of it, and some don’t. I was formerly a frontline clinician in chronic disease management and there are people that this really meets the mark for them and others that it doesn’t. We try to give the opportunity for feedback.”
While there isn’t a specific continuing care program, Colquhoun said, “We don’t just close the door and we don’t discharge. When you’re done, you’re welcome to call back and book back into different things. We know that with a nine-part series—some people that are living with chronic pain that could be a lot. So maybe they get through three or four and need to take a break and swing back in. We try to meet patients where they’re at.”
“I would say that I wholeheartedly believe that some of these interventions can have positive impacts for people. Definitely. That’s why we do what we do.”
Registration is by self-referral. Clients do not need a physician’s note. Call: Lethbridge and area. 403-388-6654 or 1-866-506-6654 or Medicine Hat and area 403-529-8969 or 1-866-795-9709
New series began Oct. 25, Tuesday evenings and Oct. 26, Wednesday daytimes. The sessions are two hours.