How Queensland’s first specialist pain physio is helping patients manage their chronic pain

Written by Javed Iqbal

Peta Weeks is one of the 3.6 million Australians living with chronic pain.

She was seriously injured when she crashed her motorcycle in 2019, and about 18 months later her arm was amputated.

“I ended up with five nerves from the spine, broken pelvis, tailbone, ribs,” Ms Weeks said.

She said since the amputation, the pain has overtaken her life.

“Sometimes it’s overbearing; I can’t handle it,” Ms Weeks said.

“It starts in my hand that isn’t there, my phantom hand, and goes up to the elbow.

“It’s really hard when I’m with friends, they see me cringe and I put my head down and just try to hide it. I don’t try to show it.”

man and woman in physio office
Mrs Weeks has appointments with physiotherapist Darren Doherty to help her cope with chronic pain.(ABC News: Heidi Sheehan)

Ms Weeks has frequent appointments at a specialist pain management clinic on the Gold Coast, where she now practices mindfulness and mind mapping to help manage the pain.

“I’ve tried a lot of meds; no meds work, they just make your mind foggy,” she said.

“But doing mindfulness, mind mapping, all the natural stuff, actually helps. It’s like trying to calm the mind.”

Specialist pain physio

woman in hospital chair
Ms Weeks’ arm was amputated about 18 months after her motorcycle accident.(Supplied: Peta Weeks)

Darren Doherty is a specialist pain physio at the Gold Coast Interdisciplinary Persistent Pain Centre, where a team of pain specialists, psychiatrists, allied health workers and nurses help Ms Weeks and other chronic pain sufferers.

Mr. Doherty is Queensland’s first specialist pain physio and one of five in Australia.

He said their goal is to improve the quality of life for people living with chronic pain despite the pain.

“Quite often our patients have been on that journey to try to find the solution and it hasn’t happened,” Mr Doherty said.

“Continuing to go on that journey to ‘fix’ their pain can sometimes actually hinder more than help.

“So we’re refocusing — how can we manage pain better, how can we achieve goals so they can re-engage in life?”

He said a big part of his role was helping patients understand their pain.

“From a physio perspective, we’re looking at helping educate patients about their pain and giving them a reason behind the symptoms they’re experiencing,” he said.

“We know from the research that when you’re more educated about pain, it can help the pain.”

man smiling at camera
Mr. Doherty is a specialist pain physiotherapist on the Gold Coast. (ABC News: Heidi Sheehan)

Removing stigma and improving accessibility

Sir. Doherty highlighted the importance of the Australian College of Physiotherapists adding a pain specialization.

Chronic Pain Australia vice president Nicolette Ellis said the not-for-profit organization has welcomed the specialty and said she would like to see the same in other health professions.

“We see a strong stigma from not only health professionals but also the community,” Ms Ellis said.

“I think it’s really a lack of awareness and understanding of what the condition is.”

Ellis said knowledge and education were key for people living with chronic pain.

“A lot of people living with chronic pain are sometimes led to think it’s in their head,” she said.

“It is a chronic disease and is a condition of the nervous system and the immune system.”

She said treatment could be different for all patients and could include medication, topical cream, complementary therapies and supplements.

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Javed Iqbal

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