Australia leads pain management sector with the release of new action plan

1 June 2021

Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) commends the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health and Aged Care, for recently launching the National Strategic Action Plan for Pain Management to improve the lives of the 3.4 million Australians living with chronic pain.

“This is a world first and it’s great to see Australia leading this space. With at least one in five Australians living with chronic pain, it is a health issue that is escalating and addressing this is in the interest of all Australians,” says Anita Hobson-Powell, ESSA Chief Executive Officer.

Representing Australia’s exercise professionals, ESSA reports that half of the nation’s exercise physiologists work with clients who suffer from pain by providing safe and effective exercise interventions to help mitigate and prevent chronic pain. Developed by Painaustralia, the Action Plan has a strong focus on education and support for GPs, as one in five GP consultations involve patients experiencing issues with pain. There is also recognition that an interdisciplinary approach to care is seen as best practice, highlighting the need to include allied health professionals in the nation’s pain management approach.

Another focus of the plan is reduction of patient reliance on opioids and other forms of pain medication, recognising the harms when using these medications regularly for chronic pain conditions. There is increasing evidence supporting the benefits of therapeutic exercise within a multidisciplinary approach to pain management.

Despite this evidence, and the concern surrounding reliance on pain medications, there is little mention of the role of exercise in this action plan, and no mention of the inclusion of an Accredited Exercise Physiologist in an interdisciplinary pain management team.

“Although ESSA welcomes the new Action Plan, more emphasis is needed on the critical role that an Accredited Exercise Physiologist can play in managing pain,” adds Ms Hobson-Powell.

“The much-valued role of the Accredited Exercise Physiologist needs to be upheld as we take much needed steps forward in pain management across all of society and health care during the implementation of this Action Plan.”

The proposed changes are all too necessary with the scope of pain impacting our entire society, particularly and disproportionately so those with disadvantages of rurality, socioeconomic factors and populations with specific needs

Painaustralia has calculated the cost of chronic pain at $139.3 billion per year and projected to rise to $205.6 billion by 2050, if pain management processes do not change.

“That increase will happen if we don’t do something about this issue,” says Carol Bennett, Chief Executive Officer of Painaustralia.

“We know it has this huge cost imposed in health, in social, in economic terms. So, we can’t afford to do nothing about this.”

Although this Action Plan is a promising first step, ESSA hopes to see timely implementation of the plan and will advocate to keep government accountable on its intentions, as documented within the plan.

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