Chronic pain affects people of all ages. Some are older and have conditions like rheumatoid arthritis; others might have sustained a skiing injury that has left them with a lifetime debilitation.
St. John's Medical Center is starting a free series of classes tomorrow meant to help those with chronic pain learn new skills to deal with it. The eight-week series runs from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays, starting tomorrow and going through Oct. 30.
“You can use your brain to help manage your pain,” said Holly Richert, neuropsychology technician at St. John’s Cognitive Health. “Research shows that changing how we think about pain can help reduce pain and change brain structures."
Dealing with chronic pain can take several forms. Pain medication can help, though the national opioid crisis has shown its dangers and limitations. Psychology has also been proven to help patients deal with chronic forms of pain, especially those that aren't fixable through surgery.
"Studies have found that some psychotherapy can be as effective as surgery for relieving chronic pain because psychological treatments for pain can alter how your brain processes pain sensations," says a 2013 article from the American Psychological Association.
Newer research has also shown that exercise, to a point, can rewire the brain and have health benefits like loosening joints and building muscle. Neuroscientist Benedict Kolber with Duquesne University in Pittsburgh studied patients with chronic pain, having them walk on a treadmill several times a week, with some exercising just a few times and others up to twice a day.
Kobler's study found increased levels of exercise correlated with reduced levels of pain, even in patients with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis who believed that exercise would cause them pain. Those who exercised five to 10 times per week showed improved pain tolerance in a pressure test meant to simulate natural pain.
"At the end of the study, they rated the same pressure as 60% less painful than they did at the beginning," Kolber told NPR.
The classes are open to the public.
"This free class is open to anyone with chronic pain who wants to learn new skills to improve their quality of life," Richert said in the release.