My Experience at the World Pain Summit ’21, Part I

This past weekend I attended the World Pain Summit ’21, which is put on by the Pain Society of Alberta, and has speakers and attendees from around the world. I attended as an Allied Healthcare Professional with Lived Experience (the options were: Physician, Physician with Lived Experience, Allied Healthcare Professional, Allied Healthcare Professional with Lived Experience, and Person with Lived Experience). By the way, this was free to attend for non-healthcare professionals with lived experience (only about 150 people with lived experience only attended out of 1600ish attendees). The summit was 3 days, had incredible expert physicians/allied healthcare professionals/researchers, giving the latest and important information on treating chronic pain and chronic pain research. I attended a lot of sessions, so I decided to make this into 3 posts so that I could relay as much as possible. Part 1 is a recap of Day 1 of the summit.

Social Media & Pain. There were 3 presenters on this one – a researcher, a physiotherapist, and a person with lived experience. Much like last week’s blog post, they went over the good and the bad of using social media, both as a person with lived experience and as a healthcare practitioner. The good includes learning, community knowledge, knowledge construction, combatting isolation, raising awareness, and validating common experiences, among others. Again, they recommend not using social media for medical treatment and to be careful when sharing personal information online. The part of this that I want you to take away is when they talked about this: “Pain is normal. If you expect to be outside of pain 100% of the time, you’re wrong.” Because that’s impossible. Pathologizing pain to the extent we do (especially online) is like pathologizing blinking. It’s not something we necessarily can (or need to) fix but rather live alongside. We need to view our normal responses to an abnormal situation (chronic pain) as just that.

Two of the social media presenters are members of GAPPA, which I’m looking into joining as well.
Image from: https://twitter.com/keith_meldrum/status/1364123971914919938

Head Injuries & Migraine/Migraine Disease Management. These were 2 separate sessions, with some overlapping content so I decided to talk about them together. Post-traumatic headaches from head injuries often resemble migraines, and migraines themselves can be considered a disease because there are changes in both brain structure and function. There are some non-modifiable risk factors for migraines (female, low SES, head trauma, genetics/epigenetics, childhood abuse) and some modifiable ones (these are important): obesity, medication overuse, caffeine overuse, and depression/anxiety. There were several recommendations for treating migraines, using the acronym BRAINS. Biobehavioral therapy/biofeedback/mindfulness/CBT/physical therapy; (which includes coping sills like self-monitoring, pacing, relaxation, self-talk, connection, and treatment of trauma/mood/cognition). Risk factor modification and lifestyle (diet, exercise, sleep). Adjunctive therapies (neuroceuticals, neurostimulation). Injection therapy/onabotullnumotoxin A/extracranial nerve blocks. Neuropharmacology. Support and Education. AND SLEEP HYGIENE is important (check on my podcast on that here.)

The Painful Implications of Psychological Trauma. There is, as I’ve written before, a strong correlation between trauma and chronic pain/illness. This was an important session for my as a psychotherapist. Mental health treatments for chronic pain & trauma should include healthy coping skills, CBT for pain, radical acceptance, trauma-focused therapy/exposure therapy, mindfulness, trauma processing, body awareness, somatic treatments, and behavioural activation. Two really important pieces came out of this. The first was for physicians: the most powerful thing you can say to clients is “I believe you.” I hope that they take that seriously. The second is for those of us with lived experience: pain is a psychological phenomena but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. The example given was how temperature is experienced by different people differently (for example, my mom is always hot and my dad is always cold). Our brains are involved in everything we think, feel, sense, etc. But all of that is also real.

It doesn’t matter if it is Big T trauma, little T trauma, PTSD, or any of the other terms used – they are all trauma and should be treated as such.

How Our Brains Make Unconscious Judgments and What We Can Do About It/Social Innovation on Equity and Diversity Inclusion. There were 3 sessions in the afternoon. I attended two of them and watched the Q&A. This session was presented by a trans woman. The other two were by Indigenous peoples. This was the social justice, diversity, and inclusion part of the weekend. There was so much great information that I hope all healthcare practitioners learned from. The part of this particular session which is helpful for everyone are the strategies to reduce our bias (because we ALL have bias – unless you literally without a brain). Avoid blame or guilt. Focus on the impact, not the intent. Choose a positive attitude. Recognize bias in action and take action. Micro-affirmations. Active listening. Be intentional. Avoid generalities. Question the reliability of sources. Treat people as individuals, avoid assumptions. Get to know people who are different than you. Practice the Platinum Rule – do unto others as they wish to be treated. The last session had to do with patterns of change and what some healthcare organizations are doing to make these changes.

Pride 2019. We are all human. Our pain (physical or emotional) is all real. We deserve to be treated as such on both of those counts.

Okay, so that was a lot of information (and that was just Day 1). I will likely be doing more individual posts and/or podcast episodes about some of this information in more detail as it might be relevant to chronic pain/illness warriors. If you have any requests from anything from this post, let me know by commenting or DM-ing me on Instagram. Part 2 comes next week. Keep on making the most of it!

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