Some Thunder Bay patients suffering chronic pain say a local clinic helps them to rely less on potentially addictive painkillers.

A team of therapists at the Chronic Pain Management Program at St. Joseph's Hospital teach patients how to cope with pain to improve their quality of life.  

Susan Jonasson, who suffers from fibromyalgia, is nearing the end of the six-week program.

"I feel like I'm coming alive again because they are helping me so much," the former rower said.

"I'm not deteriorating or just feel like I'm going to become a vegetable. We've got hope."

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The goal at the St. Joseph's Hospital's Chronic Pain Management program is to help patients reduce their dependence on painkillers.

Moving beyond medication

Karen St. Jacques, the program's physiotherapist, said dealing with long-term pain requires more than medication.

"There has to be some lifestyle changes that are going to come about," she said. "You have to look at your exercise habits [and] your stress management habits."

The program at St. Joseph's is covered by OHIP. But patients need a referral from a doctor.

A doctor’s referral was what brought fibromyalgia sufferer Lesley Read to the clinic. She has also been dealing with the pain of "deteriorating discs" for the last 40 years.

Read said there were times she was limited by her pain, had to use a walker and couldn’t get dressed. She felt frustrated by her condition.

"It was very debilitating … my goal was to find something to help me live as full a life as I can."

Early intervention is key

St. Jacques said the patients who do well "are the ones who buy into their own self management. The earlier we see people, the more we can make an impact."

This sentiment is echoed by the clinic’s exercise specialist, Brad Beyak.

"I think it’s the view of people that when they are injured, they should rest," he said.

While rest is necessary when pain is in an acute phase, at some point the patient needs to become functional again, he added.

But what happens when the acute pain doesn’t seem to subside?

"While they’re not moving their knee, they’re not moving the rest of their body as well," Beyak said.

'You feel like you're not alone'

Lesley Read's plan to manage her pain didn't include the chronic use of pain medications like Tylenol 3s, which she knew were a "band-aid solution."

She said she appreciates the clinic’s "wealth of knowledge and the complete holistic attitude" to help her deal with the pain —physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

But the biggest payoff has been meeting with people who are going through a similar process.

"You feel like you’re not alone," she said.

For Susan Jonasson it was hard to see a future without painkillers, before she came to the clinic.

"When I first came into the class, I was very overwhelmed and scared of what I'd have to go through."

Five weeks into the program, she wants to wean herself off pain medication. She said the breathing and relaxation exercises are especially helpful.

"When you become calmer, the pain seems to subside," she said.

"So then you don't need that medication as much."

With files from Nicole Ireland